Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Yesterday, another new experience came to Carnahan & Sons. A drone…sprayer! Yes, we have experience with our drone for photography, but this one applied a fungicide for us.
This came about after a phone call from Greg Anthis, our agronomy advisor from Nutrien. Greg had been contacted by Alex Russell, company rep from Syngenta, requesting connection to any local farmer who would have interest in a test application of a Syngenta corn fungicide called Trivapro. Greg passed her request to us, and we agreed. Alex arrived with a colleague, Tony Weber– a pilot and farmer from central Illinois. Tony had been hired by Syngenta to provide his drone for the applications of these tests on local farms around the region.
We determined that we would apply this fungicide in two locations, the Shake farm (planted April 21) and the Dunlap farm (replanted on June 2). Tony had quite a set up on his pickup and attached long trailer. There was a water supply, a couple cone-bottom mix tanks, generators to recharge the drone batteries, and all the necessary plumbing to mix and rinse the systems. He even had a platform from which he controlled and observed the drone, and that platform was made more practical with a large umbrella to shade him from the day’s hot sun. Tony unpacked the drone and snapped the six propeller arms into position. He attached the spray boom and then filled the drone’s 15 liter (4 gallons) reservoir. He drew a 5 acre box on an aerial photograph of the Shake farm on an iPad. Soon, he launched it into the air over the Shake farm. It was quieter than I expected, with a buzz similar to our much smaller DJI Phantom 4 drone. The drone moved out over the field to the spot on the map, then automatically engaged the sprayer. It applied 5-meter (16.4 feet) swaths of fungicide back and forth over the area marked out. The way the drone methodically went about its work reminded us of how we had used Dronedeploy technology in previous field photography with our aircraft. About halfway through the application, the spray material ran empty, and the drone returned to the exact spot from where it launched. Tony reloaded the reservoir, and sent it off again. It completed the application and returned.
We then moved the 3 miles up the road to the Dunlap farm, and repeated the process there. All in all, these two applications took about 2 hours to execute. I was amazed by the accuracy of the application, and it appeared that the downdraft of air from the drone’s propellers helped to move the fungicide deeper into the corn’s crop canopy than would have occurred by an application from a conventional sprayer. I observed a few limitations to this drone application. It took a relatively longer time to prepare the drone, mix its payload, and swap out fresh batteries for each flight. If this technology is the wave of the future, it would appear that it would require a sizable fleet of these drones to replace the capacity and speed of a conventional sprayer. But, for this particular purpose, it was an excellent and interesting way to apply a small area sample to test the efficacy of a new fungicide.
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In other news, there was another happy event yesterday. Pat and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary. We traveled to Evansville to one of our favorite restaurants for a celebratory meal. It was a special and happy time. We each remarked about how quickly we got to this number 42 anniversary.