Walmart’s patent filings hint that it may see a future where farmers use its drones to not only spot crop problems but selectively apply chemicals or even disperse pollen to bring shoppers the freshest and cheapest food possible. The world’s largest retailer applied for six patents last year on drones that aim to prevent damage to crops, control pest attacks on farms and cross-pollinate plants, according to U.S. Patents and Trademark Office documents. Groceries make up 56% of the company’s total revenue and Walmart may see drone technology as one way to get food from farms to store shelves faster and more cheaply to compete with Amazon.com Inc. In one application, Walmart seeks to patent a system that would use drones to identify crop-damaging pests and then dispense insecticides on the problem areas. Another patent suggests the use of drones carrying pollen dispenser to successfully pollinate crops. Walmart previously applied for a patent involving drones that could monitor crops’ growing conditions and send data to stores about when and from where produce might arrive. So far, Walmart has so far applied for 46 patents for using drone technology, mostly to facilitate its delivery and logistics operations, or for use within warehouses to do things such as track inventory. Walmart’s patent applications stand out to us as it indicates the company sees greater potential to address problems on farms, rather than simply spot them. These environmental-focused initiatives can be attractive to consumers. Walmart is trying to court more urban, higher income and health conscious shoppers for their online grocery business. To do this, the company could require suppliers to buy food from farmers who use agricultural technology to reduce chemical usage on crops. It is important to remember, the retailer applies for dozens of patents a year and many do not result in commercial products. However, the series of six applications indicates Walmart is looking into farming more seriously. (Source: Reuters)

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