Farmers that have embraced drones in their agricultural operations tend to use them for crop monitoring purposes but Iowa-based ag startup Rantizo thinks drones can do much more to help lessen the workload for farmers. The company utilizes autonomous sprayer drones for precise input application. Last summer, Rantizo became the first in the U.S. to receive FAA approval for nationwide swarming for agricultural spraying.
Drone spraying is pretty common in parts of Asia but still has limited utilization in the U.S., something the industry blames on the slow regulatory process. Since drone spraying was approved in 2015 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), several drone spraying services have launched but to our knowledge, Rantizo is the only one that has been approved for drone swarming in the U.S. The FAA waiver allows Rantizo to operate as many as three spraying drones at a time in rural areas up to the field border in all 48 contiguous states.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of course have an advantage over tractors in some ways as they can operate over rain-soaked fields and tall crops. The can also fly quickly to exact locations, as well as be pre-programmed to navigate their own way around. Using drones can also help reduce labor costs as well as chemical exposure. Michael Ott, founder and CEO of Rantizo, says drones also avoid the challenges associated with conventional application options, such as ground rigs and crop dusters that can damage or destroy crops, compact the soil, and lead to drift and wastage anywhere from 1% to 10%.
One of the biggest drawbacks to drone spraying has generally been speed. A single Rantizo drone can cover up to 14 acres per hour at a 3 gallon per acre rate. Swarming bumps that rate to 40 acres per hour, or 300 acres per day. Rantizo aims to increase that even further to 60 acres per hour by the end of the summer with a new “Mix & Fill” auto-tendering station. Rantizo’s boom sprayer isn’t limited to just liquids like herbicides and pesticides, either. It can also broadcast solid products such as seeds, granular fertilizer, and even beneficial insects. The company is also developing a pollination-by-drone service.
Rantizo also has a “Fly & Apply®” software suite that uses aerial imagery to allow for extremely precise input application. Ott says the system delivers its payload “within an inch of where we need to be at all times; with a standard system, we’re within a yard.” You can watch a video of the drones in action HERE.
Rantizo drone sprayers can be bought or leased. Its website lists its base price for a DJI Agras MG-1P drone at $14,500 but notes that total cost will vary. The type of drone, number of batteries and battery chargers, need for additional equipment and upgrades, as well as level of training required will depend upon your individual use case. The company also has a network of contractors available everywhere from California to Pennsylvania, though mostly concentrated in the Midwest, with further expansion planned in 2021. Rantizo is also conducting spraying demos throughout the Midwest this spring. You can learn more HERE. (Sources: CropLife, AgInfo, AgAir)