Alabama Extension is the first in the US to research a new drone model

The market for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has grown enormously over the past decade. This technology is evolving every day and the demand for drone applications has revolutionized agriculture. Through a new partnership with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, agricultural research knows no bounds.

Steve Li, weed researcher and agricultural drone expert at Alabama Extension. (Contribution)

The DJI Agras T40 spray drone hit the US market in October. This new flagship model is an upgrade from the DJI Agras T30, which is still considered the industry leader. Thanks to a donation from Agri Spray Drones, the Alabama Extension at Auburn University is the first land grant institution in the US to begin agricultural research using the new T40 model.

double research

The new technology donated by Agri Spray Drones will double the capacity of Extension’s UAS research, according to Steve Li, weed researcher for Alabama Extension.

“We are now able to carry out more agricultural trials and spray more efficiently with both spray drones,” said Li. “At the same time, we can generate data from multiple models in multiple crops, speeding up field studies and technology promotion.”

According to Li, an agricultural UAS expert, the drone industry is developing rapidly. UAS technology often exceeds the possibilities for training and demonstration. Staying at the cutting edge of technology enables Alabama Extension to provide important stakeholder training and improve the livelihoods of growers in the state.

The right alignment

Based in Centralia, Missouri, Agri Spray Drones requires unbiased, science-based information when it provides information to consumers.

Taylor Moreland, owner of Agri Spray Drones, met Li at a training event. After much discussion about the drone industry, Moreland and his company decided to work with Li and Alabama Extension.

“After introducing Steve Li, we quickly realized that he was more obsessed with drones than we were,” Moreland said. “We all said, ‘Holy cow, we need to work more with this guy.'”

Moreland said it is imperative for his company to create and provide information about the right drone application. Scientific research serves as the backbone of UAS adoption.

“We can create and provide information, but it’s better if it comes from a researcher with an unbiased opinion — especially someone who knows the protocols,” Moreland said.

“Our goals align very well,” Li said. “We both want people to be able to use these new tools to lead better lives.”

multipurpose drones

It can be hard to imagine a drone the size of an average golf cart. Enter the DJI Agras T40. This model features a relatively light frame, larger tank size, and rotating nozzles for consistent product delivery.

“Spray drones can be used by many people — not just row farmers,” Li said. “Many people have the misconception that it’s only applicable when you grow crops like corn, cotton, soybeans, or peanuts.”

Several farmers use these systems for growing specialty crops such as cucurbits (squash, zucchini, watermelon, etc.), peaches, ornamental plants, and cherries. Some pest control companies also use spray drones to control mosquitoes.

Use cases don’t stop at treating existing cultures. Spray drones can apply both seed and dry fertilizer to forage fields. Consumers can now plant green fields remotely.

Forestry companies also benefit from spray drones. Lumbermen now have more options to treat clearlogging. Using a drone sprayer is a cheaper alternative to hiring a helicopter or compact sprayer for such a job, especially in small fields and very remote areas. Spray drones also have the potential to precisely manage common invasive species such as cogongrass and kudzu in forests, rights of way and parks. They can also control aquatic weeds in areas of ponds and rivers that boats cannot easily reach.

For more information on drones and their impact on agriculture, search for “drones” in the search bar on the Alabama Extension’s website, www.aces.edu.

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