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Spraying crops with drones

Spraying crops with drones

A company recently received federal approval to use drones for product applications

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

A Fulton. N.Y., drone services provider recently received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use its drones to apply crop protection products on farms.

Empire Drone Company, which also provides customers with aerial photography and inspections among other services, received its Part 137 certification from the FAA in January after the company started the application process last year.

“We started the process around mid-summer of 2019,” Sean Falconer, a partner at Empire Drone, told “Now that we have the FAA’s approval, we’re working on rolling out a drone-spraying service that will hopefully be ready for late spring.”

After a farmer and his or her crop management team come up with a plan and order the necessary crop protection products, staff from Empire Drone will come to the farm to apply the products.

The drones can cover up to 24 acres per hour and can be flown autonomously in a grid or can be operated manually for spot-spraying applications. The company also has a spreader that can be attached to the drone to apply granular products.

Using the drones may not be viable for large cash crop acreages. But orchards and vineyards could see positive results, Falconer said.

“These drones are best used for crops in rough terrain and small- to medium-sized farms,” he said. “Their efficiency comes from the farms here in upstate New York. They’re not suited for large operations like you’d see in the Midwest.”

Empire Drone conducted trials with local farmers to better document the benefits of using drones for crop protection applications.

The three main advantages are cost, time and health, Falconer said.

“It might take a farmer four hours to spray six acres,” he said. “That would take one of our drones about 20 minutes to do that, and you wouldn’t need someone in the field all day.”

Replacing a part on a drone is cheaper than replacing a part on a commercial sprayer and using a drone minimizes the exposure to the crop protection products, Falconer said.

Empire Drone needs to complete some additional training before offering the crop-spraying service.

The company needs to become a certified applicator by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

“The certification from the DEC says that we’ve been trained to handle the chemicals,” he said.

Psisa/Getty Images Plus photo

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