drone certificationAerial Application: Demand for drones increasing among farmers | Features

November 29, 2021by helo-10

When Jeffery Luttrell needed to spray fungicide on his corn this summer, he decided to take to the air himself.

However, he wasn’t piloting a typical crop dusting airplane but a $35,000 drone that he navigated from the ground with his laptop.

Before planting this spring, Jeffery Luttrell said he mapped out the fields with GPS coordinates that set the exact course, which includes avoiding obstacles such as power lines, for the drone.

“I just push a few buttons and it will take off and then come and land wherever it starts off at,” he said. “…I can control it if I have to but I prefer not to.”

Jeffery Luttrell, who farms in Ohio County with his father, Darren Luttrell, said he was looking for a way to spray the edges of his fields that were missed by traditional sprayers.

He said the more precise spraying and the overall cost savings compared to contracting a crop dusting service were what attracted the Luttrells to investing in the drone technology.

“…It’s cheaper for me to go do it than to hire an airplane,” said Jeffery Luttrell, who sprayed about 1,300 acres of corn with the drone this summer. “The airplanes can do more in a day than I can. But I figured us saving about $10 an acre doing it like this.”

Darren Luttrell added that crop dusters are limited when crops are surrounded by wooded areas.

“Airplanes, especially in the fields like we have around here with trees around them, they can only get about 80% of the crop,” Darren Luttrell said. “With this (drone), you can get 90 to 95% of the crop coverage.”

The Luttrells purchased what’s called an AgroDrone manufactured by Hylio — a Richmond, Texas-based agricultural service company.

The drone is equipped with two 10-liter tanks, which is just shy of 6 gallons combined. And when full of fungicide, the drone will weigh around 100 pounds with a 6-foot wing-span.

When the drone senses that its tanks are empty, it will return to where it started and be refilled from there.

Jeffery Luttrell said each flight will take about 15 minutes before both the tanks and the two batteries are drained. He keeps five sets of batteries handy because it takes about an hour to recharge each battery.

“If I fill it all the way full and the batteries are all the way charged, the most of I’ve ever gotten was 5.9 acres,” said Jeffery Luttrell. “…In an hour’s time, I’m probably getting 18 to 20 acres.”

Demand for Ag DronesEdwin Ritchey, a soil specialist for the University of Kentucky Extension Service, said the demand for drones within agriculture increases by the year, which is what spurred the upcoming pilot certification workshop in December at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton.

“It’s a training topic we keep getting on surveys we’re doing,” Ritchey said. “…We’re just trying to get the training more accessible to Kentucky farmers. …I do have a drone myself. I was going to get certified a year ago and just haven’t. So I’m actually going to take the class as well.”

Ritchey said most farmers are interested in the visual images that smaller drones with their high quality cameras can provide with an aerial view to help improve yields.

“They can fly a field and see what’s going on,” Ritchey said. “Instead of boots on the ground, they focus on where to put their boots.”

The drone pilot certification workshop is scheduled for Dec. 20-21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the UKREC in Princeton. The purpose is to prepare farmers to become commercially licensed drone pilots.

The cost is $400 for the two-day course with a separate $175 fee for the two-hour exam that will take place Dec. 22-23 at the FAA testing center in Madisonville.

Ritchey said the workshop is open to a minimum of 12 people with a maximum of 20. Anyone interested in registering can call 270-365-7541 (ext. 21317) or email [email protected].

“We’re signing up people and we have another date in March held for overflow,” Ritchey said. “We feel like we’re going to fill this (workshop) out.”

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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