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Montana Ag Network: aerial drones are changing the landscape of agriculture

Montana Ag Network: aerial drones are changing the landscape of agriculture
Posted at 8:45 AM, Oct 20, 2023

New technology is emerging on the scene of the agricultural world and is making itself known right here in Montana. In the town of Choteau, Timothy King with Ag Drone West demonstrated how the DJIT40 aerial drone works for the purposes of spreading or spraying product on farming land. Around 20 farmers showed up to watch the demonstration and ask questions regarding the new technology.

“It’s not replacing your sprayer, but it’s another tool in your tool bag,” King explained. Farmers learned that the drone is used for spraying product such as pesticides and spreading cover crop for example. However, it was explained that it would not be used for spreading seeds such as spring wheat or winter wheat, as the seeds would only fall on the surface of the ground and not be introduced into the soil.

King also explained the functions of the drone: “These are fully autonomous where once I have it set to go all I have to do is keep an eye on it and it will do all the work from there. The drone is giving you the ability to get into those places where it’s too wet, or too muddy, or you have a crop that’s standing that you can’t drive a sprayer through”.

This specific drone model holds both a 10-gallon spraying tank and a 10-gallon spreading bin. Distribution of product can be controlled down to droplet size (50 to 500 microns), spread pattern, and location. Fully loaded with payload the drone weighs around 220 to 250 pounds

Montana Ag Network: aerial drones are changing the landscape of agriculture

The drone bundle costs a producer approximately $34,000 and can simultaneously run four drones at a time, spraying or spreading at a rate of 45 acres an hour.

Compared to a new ground sprayer, costing around $700,000, with max output can spray around 200 acres per hour.

Doug Weist, a fourth-generation Montana farmer and owner of Farmtech in Choteau, said, “It just makes sense."

He continued, “I’m a firm believer in the philosophy in agriculture, it’s the biggest, most expensive, highest horsepower machine out there, but when that thing breaks down…the world stops turning. You have a couple million dollars invested in the machine and if it’s not moving, you’re losing money. These [DJIT40 drones] are at a much lower cost, full autonomous, and when you have four of them out there and one of them decides to fire a circuit so to speak, he can just take a seat while the other three pick up where he left off and that job gets completed and the work never stops. So you lose maybe 25% of your productivity instead of 100% and the cost is way less.”

Montana Ag Network: aerial drones are changing the landscape of agriculture
Montana Ag Network: aerial drones are changing the landscape of agriculture

Licensure is another component in operating aerial drones. According to King, Weist, and Michael Bourke, salesman for AgriCurve, flight requirements include a FAA drone pilot license, a FAA part 137 license, and specific state and local applicator licenses.

Weist explains the licenses are not just about knowing the intricacies the machine itself: “It’s about air space, safety, weather, communications. It’s as if you’re going to be flying an airplane in that airspace because you are entering an airplanes airspace.”

King noted that a person would be able to get all the certifications needed to fly the drone within a six to eight-week time frame.

However, aerial drones are not the only type of drones emerging on to the agricultural scene.

Weist plans to go to Agritechnica in November - it's a farm show in Germany to learn more about ground drones.

“They sell autonomous, diesel powered, electric vehicles that have seeder implements, tillage implements, rollers, mowers, like you name it. Just like you program a drone to go out here, you program that thing with wheels, and it drives around the edge of the field, and it just does its thing,” Weist explains.

Weist told MTN that this new technology will let Montana farmers and ranchers to get work done around-the-clock.