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Agricultural drones hover over Hoosier farms

Posted at 7:36 PM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 19:36:55-04

MILTON — Just above the crops in Milton, Indiana a fairly new device comes together to make working a sinch for a family of Hoosier farmers.

Bennet Walther recently purchased an agricultural drone. It’s the first drone for this family farm, but Walther said with a few taps on the screen, this drone takes off with self-flying software.

“I’ve got my cord here, that’s connected to my radio antenna which speaks to the drone," Walther said. “It takes me three minutes to set up the wings, a minute to connect and then I can go.”

It’s almost a break for these farmers who know hard work.

“I grew up on Christmas, we didn’t open presents until the cows were fed," Walther said.

Farming’s more than a full-time job when you have soybeans, wheat, barley and corn to harvest for producers, like Hill’s Pet Nutrition.

Now, these drones bring a new method to an old industry.

“I’m a fan of it. I think it’s really useful in the right situation,” Walther said.

For Walther and his father, the drone helps spray chemicals to destroy fungus. Most times, farmers pay people to fly planes to treat their crops.

The drone is a significant money saver that can run for hours on electric batteries. It can cover five acres on one battery.

That’s about ten minutes worth of flight time, but it comes with four different batteries so they can rotate them out and cover twenty acres, within that rotation.

Even with limited battery life, Walther said the drone spraying method beats the alternative of using expensive fuel with a sprayer on the ground that can crush crops when it rains.

“If we had a bunch of big rains and you mow your yard, you might tear up your yard a little bit, it would be the same thing with us spraying our crops. We would be getting out there, tearing it up,” Walther said.

With this sprayer in the skies, work continues when crops are wet or dry.

“I can just wake up and go I’m going to go spray today,” said Walther. “It allows us to be more efficient with our time, instead of sitting around twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the right time we can go out and get stuff done, in between operations.”

Its farming work taking a turn for the skies that Walther said is a net positive.

One thing Walther mentions as an additional obligation with drones is having to get the agriculture chemical operator’s license, which takes extra time and effort.

Around 300 people in the United States use Hylio Drones.

Company officials said that number is more than doubling every year they’ve been in business. So, they predict several thousand farmers will use their product and other spray drones, in the future.

Arthur Erickson and his three co-founders at the University of Texas at Austin came up with this drone.

“If you want to buy, what’s called a high clearance boom sprayer these days — a new one of those costs 400 to 500 thousand right now," Erickson said. "Now with three of our drones, you can do the same amount of acreage per day, the same inputs, but you’d be spending 100 to 150 thousand.”

“So right off the bat, from a capital expenditure standpoint, it’s half the price if not a third of the price of what you’d traditionally be seeing out of the market," Erickson said. "But furthermore, if you’re using these drones effectively, the way they’re meant to be used, with the precision aspect of them. Instead of treating 100% of your crops or 80% that you’re normally hit with your ground rig. You can actually identify the problem areas and just spray 10% to 30% so you’re using that much less chemical to still protect your field.”

Erickson said one more plus is this drone is made in America. That means no supply chain issues, and you can get a quick response from their team in Texas.

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