Drone startup plans to seed, spray, fertilize cropland
TAZEWWELL COUNTY, Va. — Farmers and ranchers who raise livestock and plant seeds, nurture and harvest crops can save themselves some work and reach new economic and environmental heights.
Remote Agri Drone, a new Tazewell County company in southwest Virginia, flies drones that seed, spray, fertilize and capture multispectral images to determine the health of a field.
The company’s services are a part of precision agriculture.
They ensure that crops receive what they need, spray closer and without drift and with props that force seeds and spray into what they are aiming at a lot better, Remote Agri-Drone owner Don Nelson said.
The process helps minimize chemical and fertilizer costs as well as runoff into waterways that penetrate the soil.
Agri Drone can also plant winter cover crop seeds between rows of first frost harvest crops such as corn as early as August by driving the seeds into rows in between, he said.
Nelson, a Norfolk Southern Railroad retiree, sees his drone services as particularly valuable to aging Bland, Tazewell and Russell county farmers who are unable to access with tractors and farm equipment areas that are overgrown and overtaken by briar, thistles and tree growth.
Nelson held an October USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service workshop whereby he said five or six of the 42 attendees expressed interest in his services.
A Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries representative asked him about stream bank mapping, he said.
In November, he received a $10,000 seed capital matching grant from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority.
He intends to purchase solar energy-equipped transportation to help repower the drone as needed, he said.
The $20,000 device measures 5.2 feet from tip to tip and is equipped to spray 3.7 gallons over more than 1 acre, Nelson said.
Remote Agri Drone can operate by hovering right above crops or from 27 feet away.
Services cost $30 to $50 per acre per service plus sprays and fertilizers. Spraying by hand typically requires 15 gallons per acre, Nelson said.
Drone sprays require three to five gallons, he said.
Growers save on costs associated with farm equipment and determine the frequency of use.
“For 10 to 12 acres to get it back in service, that can be another 5 or 6 head of cattle that they can get back on the farm,” Nelson said. “So the investment is well worth it.”
Nelson completed a class with the drone manufacturer HSE Homeland Security and Electronics and is currently awaiting a 137 FAA certification for agricultural aircraft operators that he hopes to obtain in time for spring 2019.
Certification in addition to low altitude flying, operating over congested areas and other flight skills involves gaining knowledge and skills for safely handling poisons, agricultural chemicals and basic medical knowledge of poisoning symptoms.
The Crop Sprayers Industry is growing at a very rapid pace, according to Marketresearchpro Inc., of Newark, Del.
New entrants are faced with much competition because of innovative technology, quality services and diligent international vendors, according to the report.
Not everyone is familiar with the technology required to use some of the smaller devices that growers can independently purchase, Nelson said.
“It’s amazing what the future for drones is going to be,” Nelson said. “By spring, we should be very busy.”
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