Aerial spraying drones could be approaching the tipping point for agricultural operations

“We’ll start seeing the first approvals next year,” Beckwith said. “They’re going to have bigger booms, bigger capacity and bigger batteries.”

He continued, envisioning an aerial future.

“At the moment it’s the side dish, but it’s all starting to make it more of the main course,” he said. “It really reveals the value of drone spraying. There’s something like a billion acres sprayed each year in the United States, from planting to harvesting and cover crops. A third of those are expected to be sprayed by drone. In five years, we’re talking about 10 out of 1,000 drones, and they’ll be doing a tremendous job, replacing the RoGators and the Patriots and the other big sprayers.”

HYLIO SEE BIGGER

Hylio is coming off its best summer ever, during which Erickson said the company’s latest offering, the AG-130, was indeed being used as a floor spray substitute by some users.

“We’re talking 3,000 to 5,000 acres done with their AG-130s, either one or two of them, or whatever number they have,” he said. “It’s a job they would otherwise have done with a ground rig, helicopter or plane, so we’re talking about a complete replacement. It could be done faster with bigger drones, but it’s is already here.”

The AG-130 is currently the largest of four drones offered by Hylio for sale to the public. It began phasing in last spring and has resulted in a 42% increase in tank size, up to 8 gallons of spray and a 35 foot swath, up to 50 acres per hour. Prices start at $31,080.

It’s just one step in what Hylio hopes to introduce next year, though. He works on a machine that offers twice the capacity of the AG-130, so 16 gallons.

“This thing is a monster,” Erickson said. “It’s in direct competition with what you’re doing with the ground rig. A full day with this drone, you could get 800 or 900 acres. It’s definitely going to win over a lot of naysayers. I think it’s definitely going to be a turning.”

GUARDIAN SET FOR HIS DEBUT

Guardian Agriculture is yet another American company that wants to see major changes in the aerial drone industry in the very near future. The Massachusetts-based startup is now taking reservations for its first machine, the SC1. It’s a beast, with a 20-gallon tank and a 40-acre-per-hour target. With a price tag of $119,000, it’s anything but a toy for a hobby.

“We think 20 gallons is the minimum size you need to make it more efficient on the farm,” said co-founder and CEO Adam Bercu.

The “SC” in SC1 stands for Specialty Crops, where Guardian envisions its first machine to be most useful. There have been around 500 pre-orders so far with the aim of mid-2024 deliveries.

The next machine on the production line could be the BA1, for wide-acre spraying, a drone that would more than double the capacity and, in turn, the acres-per-hour promise of the SC1. Not yet officially announced, Guardian hopes to release details and open pre-orders in late 2023.

“WE TAKE THEM”

The main innovation in the impending leap forward in aerial spraying drone technology is largely in the batteries.

Rantizo’s Beckwith pointed out which batteries are better designed to withstand 100 degrees Fahrenheit heat. Guardian, meanwhile, also focuses on batteries, calling them the company’s true core technology.

The batteries may be capable of longer rides, but the company’s strategy is for shorter jumps with frequent opportunities to recharge the batteries to 100%. He envisions five-minute flights for the SC1, just enough time to unload its 20-gallon tank. Between each flight, the machine will land and require one minute to refill the tank and two minutes and 30 seconds to fully recharge the battery.

“That’s what took us five years of R and D to perfect,” Bercu said.

Their next iteration, the BC1, would follow the same format.

“We really think about the price of sprayers these days, and we really think that if we can get a machine that can do 100 acres an hour and get that selling price at $350,000 or less, we’ll be very competitive. with the top- of the clearance sprayers selling on the market for $600,000, $700,000, or $800,000. We’re taking on them. We’re taking on the Deeres of the world.

Joel Reichenberger can be contacted at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter @JReichPF


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