DAVIS (CBS13) — Drones have been given the green light to take over crop dusting duties from airplanes in California.
It looks like a toy, but the high-tech tool is the first of its kind approved in the United States. The state-of-the art farm drone had been tested in wine country.
“We think it opens up some of the first opportunities to really deliver a payload in agriculture,” said Ken Giles, a professor of agricultural engineering at UC Davis.
He’s spent the past several years studying and refining the Yamaha R-MAX unmanned helicopter. The device comes equipped with tanks to fly above crops, including grapes, releasing pesticides and supplements with little labor cost.
“We can avoid problems with pests, we can treat a smaller area, and we can do it in an economical way,” he said.
Giles says the device originally designed originally for rice farms in Asia can help supplement other equipment like ground sprayers.
“It’ll take maybe half an hour to do an acre of land, with certain spray systems,” he said. “We found with our aerial vehicle we can do maybe six or seven acres per hour.”
Michael Hoffman with the Lodi Grape Commission says there are still questions about how well the copter will do spraying thick grape canopies, but says the commission supports drone technology.
“It’s a really impressive piece of equipment, and it really paves the way for this use in agriculture,” he said.
The R-Max isn’t on sale yet, and with a price tag of more than $100,000, large companies will likely but the drones and then rent them out.
Giles expects other companies in the United States to develop similar drones.