S6:E1 Taking to the Skies with Drone Applications
As growers across Indiana and Michigan get more acres planted in condensed timeframes, management windows for crops maturing at the same time are also narrowing. In addition to this increased workload, significant weather events and increases in highly intensive management styles have created a gap between what growers would like to have done to their crop and what applicators can properly complete. Ceres is planning to use drones to address this problem this beginning in the 2023 growing season.
Since 2014 Ceres Solutions has used drones for “recreational” purposes. They have not had a service for hire, but employees have used the technology for scouting fields. For a year now, Ceres has been preparing and securing the licenses required to use drones for aerial applications. This technology will help them close the gap on acres that have been a challenge to get applied.
“How many times have you seen a big rain event in the field saturated, but you've got calm winds, beautiful sunshine and you can't get out there across the field,” asked Matt Mace, Agronomy Business Manager with Ceres Solutions. “There's many times that I think that this is going to be a real advantage for us, an advantage for our customers because we can take care of those special times. We're going to be able to apply and when other people won’t."
The plan for 2023 is to start with fungicide applications. There will be opportunities to also help the high intensity management acres with foliar nutrition applications. As the season progresses, there will be opportunities to fly on cover crop seed.
“Our first goal with this whole thing was to prop up the aerial applicators,” shared Matt Clark, Digital Technology Manager here at Ceres Solutions. “They've had their shortages the last couple years as well. So being able to take their inefficient fields off of their plate, cover them with the drones and let them get the broad acres faster.”
If you’re interested in having a field applied via drone this growing season, reach out to your local Ceres Solutions representative. Throughout this first season with drone applicators, communication will be essential. To hear what Ceres has done to prepare for this season, and to get their opinion on the future of drones, tune into our full episode of Field Points.
Morgan Seger (00:03):
Every day we rely on food, fuel, and fiber, but how much do you know about these industries we depend on? In this podcast, we dive deep into the production and processes of these everyday essentials. This is Field Points an original podcast production from Ceres Solutions. Welcome to the first episode of the sixth series of Field Points. My name is Morgan Seger. I'm your host and today I'll be guiding us through a conversation about drone technology. Now, drones aren't necessarily a new technology to agriculture. While this technology has been around for awhile now, executing with this technology is something that Ceres is excited to bring to growers this growing season. So starting in 2023, growers will be able to have acres applied by drone with the Ceres Solutions team. Our guest for this series is Matt Mace. He has found a passion working with these drones and has invested a ton of energy into learning the ins and outs of what it will take to do aerial applications with drones. Before we dive into our conversation with Matt, I want to introduce you to my co-host, Matt Clark.
Matt Clark (01:10):
My name's Matt Clark. I'm the digital technology manager here at Ceres Solutions. So my day-to-day, I manage our field support team that supports all of our locations when it comes to ag technology, and then I also oversee our agronomic programs like CORE Agronomics. A little bit of my background, I grew up around Crawfordsville, Indiana and that's where I live now. And prior to Ceres I worked for an equipment manufacturer for about four years and then moved back to home and have been with Ceres almost seven years in May. My current role, technically I've been in for about a year and a half, but I've always been in the precision ag department, I guess you want to call it that. We've kind of changed our names a little bit over the few last few years, but kind of in that same realm, at least
Morgan Seger (01:53):
As Ceres Solutions has been working to get their drone application operation up and running. Matt Mace, our guest today has been instrumental in getting that done, so let's meet Matt.
Matt Mace (02:04):
Yeah, my name's Matt Mace. I am an agronomy business manager for Ceres Solutions and I've been with the company for 24 years, so a long time. My wife, Shelly and I, we've been married for 25 years. We have two kids and we are active in our church, North Union United Methodist Church, big Dave Ramsey fan, love to work on the Financial Peace University and help people with their finances. Been a trustee at our church for 10 years and really enjoy working for Ceres. Started out basically as retail branch salesperson and I've sold seed and crop nutrients, CPP for all that time. One of my big passions is seed and anxious to get to talk about the drones, what applications we could use those in and how it could help Ceres and our customer base back in 2014 Ceres did buy DJI drones for us to fly recreationally for growers in the area and wanted to see what we could see, do some picture taking and looking at crops.
And it really became to be a passion for me because of the level of detail we could see - make out tile lines in the field. We could see if somebody had a starter row plugged and that was at the point when it was we need to do more than just recreationally fly and take pictures. So at that point, the FAA was still trying to, at that time to decide what they were going to do if we were going to register the drones or not register 'em and decide we wanted to take it to the next level by getting our Part 137, which is for hire. It's not any longer for recreational, it's for hire and then you as a pilot, you have to pass what is called the part 107 and the part 107 allows you to be the pilot of a drone for hire. So I guess that's what I wanted to do is to help people in more detail than just flying recreationally.
Morgan Seger (03:59):
Part 107 was the one that you just passed, right?
Matt Mace (04:02):
Yeah, I passed that on Friday. Thank goodness. Nervous. Yeah, a little nervous. Yeah. Yeah, it's been, gosh, I would say probably a couple years we've been talking about it and I think that's been a place where we weren't for sure exactly how we wanted to use it, right? I had a lot of people call me over the past year saying, Hey, can you fly some cover crops on a particular area for me? Or can you come out and spray this spot of weeds? Or, Hey, I've had nutrisolutions tissue sampling done, but I would like to have boron applied to this corn and couldn't really help. And I think this would be a great avenue, a way to try to fulfill a need that we've never been able to offer before. I'm really excited to see what we can do with it and where it leads.
I've helped Betsy and Hannah both with the interns throughout the years doing nutrisolutions and a lot of times on Fridays I'll take the interns and we'll go around and look at fields and do some problem solving and scouting, but I think now maybe we could eventually do this with drones and maybe help get these kids on a path for if they would like to become an applicator, that would definitely fill a need for our company. And we're not in any way trying to take away from current applicators. We need them, we love them, they help us, they make us look good and they're very valuable to the company. But at the same time, there are some areas that we can maybe help speed the process and spread the workload
Morgan Seger (05:28):
As Matt mentioned, these aerial applications by drone will be in addition to the ground applications that customers of Ceres Solutions are already familiar with. Next, Matt walks us through how we see these two different types of application styles working together to best benefit the Ceres Solutions customers.
Matt Mace (05:47):
We've got a lot of different areas that we can approach this, right? We've got some acres that maybe are tough or too timely to spray with the ground application rigs right now we've got some other areas that maybe have been troublesome to get to. It's out of the area. We've also got fields that have had maybe towers in 'em, that aerial applicators spray and maybe the location because it's next to an airport, couldn't get the aerial applicator to talk to the airport to get permission to fly there. So I think that in some ways will help us provide a service, had a gap there, but the need's been there, but we haven't had a way to do it ourself and we've got a lot of growers that's got their own application equipment, but sometimes they've had barriers or breakdowns or whatever, but they couldn't be able to do it.
Maybe we could come out and help them get through that situation.
Matt Clark (06:39):
Yeah, I think that's a good point to expand on some, I think you're, especially you Matt, you're in an area, you've had issues getting aerial application done and with this summer we really want to start our focus with during application be in with fungicide and targeting that application first and then build on that. But I think maybe you can talk about it a little bit. You guys have had extra unique challenges, if you want to call it that in your area with field size and being able to get airplanes. And it's not that we necessarily want to replace airplanes right away. But we want to kind of sure be support supplement, be a supplement. So you can talk about that a little bit, how we want to supplement those airplanes.
Matt Mace (07:20):
We love our area applicators too. We need them. They carry the bulk of the burden for us, but there's some times that we would need to spray some particular areas that are odd shape. Maybe you don't get really great coverage there. Maybe we're not getting the in rows quite as good as we could. Some of it obviously is the aerial applicator's flying at 170 mile an hour and he's got to pull up and rightfully so. He's got his own life at stake. There's a lot to a lot going there and you got a million dollar airplane or more. A lot of the technology that's there we're able to get the as applied maps, which that's very good and that is something that some of the growers have wanted to request. And the drones I think will be able to fly at obviously slower speed, 15 mile an hour, get good coverage around the end rows.
We may not necessarily have to be spraying end rows conventionally, we have thought whenever Matt and I visited with Tony Weber in Illinois, we noticed that the drones did not turn on the end. They came to the end and then went left or and then flew backwards because it took too long to turn on the end row, which drone never turns in the field, it never turns in the field. So we didn't even realize that and I thought it was really eye-opening. I had a guy just last week ask me, he said, Hey, can maybe we think we could get these drones to apply cover crops on my highly erodible areas? And I thought, well that's a great idea because one can't carry a big payload, but I could do isolated spots that he is worried about erosion and washing and he's got his own sprayer so he can go out and terminate the cover crop whenever he feels ready, but at the same time we can help him with something that maybe an aerial applicator wouldn't want to even come down and mess with.
Matt Clark (09:00):
Yeah, that's a great point.
Matt Mace (09:01):
And then the market for possible micronutrient applications, we see increasing demand for high intensive management acres. So some of these acres are being tissue sampled every week and then if the weather doesn't cooperate, you can't get in there to apply what needs to be applied. So at some point I think this is going to be very reliable to come in and apply some boron whenever you need it this week and maybe it zinc the next week or we need to apply a gallon of calcium nitrate or whatever nutrient we can see that's really going to allow us to be one, take our yield levels up to an even better level, but also to be able to supply a need that we couldn't do otherwise.
Matt Clark (09:46):
Yeah, that's a good point. Cause the drone doesn't necessarily care how wet the ground is to go out and apply, so we can get back in there earlier on a lot of those applications.
Another drawback I think for the bigger, heavier equipment is they don't like to mix a lot of different loads. Doing trials across the field is one of the worst things I try to get my applicators do, but I love the information but they hate doing it. So as we are able to do five acres of this treatment and maybe five acres of this treatment, I think it's going to allow us to sort out a very competitive space. With a lot of the biologicals, you've got different prints, micronutrients, we've even got different specialty products that we may not use all the time like K Mag or Boron or Super U or ESN. A lot of these different products that hey, we might be able to apply a little bit differently. It may change the whole spectrum as far as nutrition before and after the crop's planted trials is something I get excited about too.
Matt Mace (10:41):
Yeah, I think this is going to be a big opportunity to be very flexible with the trial but also some new ways to think of trials instead of just thinking of a traditional trial block in a field where we follow the rows with the drone, we'll be able to put on treatments at a 45 degree angle so that we can get different variations across that field very easily instead of just doing a massive block across all types and maybe even better than just a randomized set of blocks. If you sprayed a big X out there in the field, there's going to be no denying that the product you sprayed in this X is going to be what altered the yield plus or minus. And as we get more and more years worth of information, we're going to be able to come to the market with confidence to our growers and say, Hey, we did all these trials and this worked and this didn't. Sometimes knowing what not to do is also just as important as what to do
Morgan Seger (11:33):
In order to be able to execute on these trials. The drones will be collecting as applied data
Matt Mace (11:38):
As far as applied map, probably store that data in the cloud and that way you've got a date and timestamp with each thing and each product that you've been applied. If you need to recall that for a particular reason, you'd be able to print it off or email it to someone.
Matt Clark (11:50):
Yeah, it'll all get stored in that remote controller for the drone and makes it very easy to get the data off and to your point, the data, it could probably be better as applied, I've heard DJI isn't always the best with some of their as applied data, but we're going to get a good enough data sets to be able to do trial work and layout zones and things like that in the field.
Matt Mace (12:09):
The drone does have a set of scales on it, so we are calculating our spray width and how much material we're applying per acre and basically it's setting up different zones that maybe if you're flying more than one drone with a waiver, of course you can hit this east quadrant of the field with one and the west quadrant of the field with another and it's keeping track on your controller where that piece of machinery is located and how soon it's going to run out and it knows that it's going to be at the other end of the field, so it may not go ahead and make that pass. It'll go ahead and start coming back to your takeoff point. So there's not much time to stop and smell the roses.
Morgan Seger (12:47):
In order to fly, the drone has to have a wireless connection.
Matt Clark (12:51):
The remote controller there has to have cell or connection to a wifi network, so you're able to get that data pretty easily so you you're automatically sharing to a cloud service of some kind. So all the data is loaded into your field. Boundary itself is a shape file basically. It's a lot of connect the dots and depending on how that field shaped, I've got a lot of fields that are shaped like my hand. So that's one of the advantages. But at the same time kind of talked about advantage and disadvantages of the drone. That's one of the disadvantages in my area is visibility. You've got to be able to be visibly in contact with that drone at all times. So if it goes around the neck, you need to be able to go around and kind of move with the drone as it goes. That way you can see it at all times and set of protocols we have to follow as far as checklists and pre-flight inspections and we're going to do all that in certain areas. You're going to have authorization that's going to be needed before you fly there, make an application. So we're going to be doing those things and following the proper protocols. Safety, we're really excited about being able to offer that in some of these areas where we haven't.
Morgan Seger (13:56):
There is a lot of behind the scenes set up and testing before you are allowed to fly a drone commercially. Matt Mace just passed his test last Friday and he shares what all it takes to become a drone pilot.
Matt Mace (14:10):
I said we need to have a part 137, which that's what Ceres has applied for and that's a company license, that's a company license for a business. Each pilot that's in charge of one drone and these license are set up for 55 pounds and less, but we've applied for a waiver for greater than 55 pounds, so we can fly seven or eight gallon plus the weight of the drone and the cameras and all that included to be able to apply fertilizer or fungicide or any type of liquid. And once you pass the part 107, you're then eligible to fly that drone in that area. So got to pass the 107 which is for federal and then for the state of Indiana you also need your category 11, which is I already owned the core license, I've passed that in my category 1A for a hire for custom pesticide applicators license.
But category 11 is to be able to spray aerial fungicides and crop nutrients by air.
Matt Clark (15:03):
Yeah, I've got my 1 0 7 though.
Matt Mace (15:06):
Yeah, so I'm ahead of him on the category 11, but it was really easy to sign up with office of the Indiana State chemist to be able to go through their new account to make your account set up and then pay your fee to take the exam. And I was able to schedule mine for Ivy Tech south there by south of Terre Haute. Hopefully I'll pass and I've got study literature here and I'll look over that really well and once I pass that then we'll be able to be pretty good. I think we've got to look into a class two medical certificate, have to have medical certificates as well for the air airmen part of it. Yeah, and that's a little more detailed than maybe equivalent maybe of your class A CDL physical, so something like that.
Matt Clark (15:47):
But for airmen, and I think that's that there's a lot of licensing that each pilot has to have, but I think we're kind of, I don't know if unique's the right word, but we were kind of set up for success because like you and Josh already have your category ones, you already have your core licensing for the state chemist. So really you just had to tack on a category 11 for the aerial and then get your drone license so you weren't having to start from scratch like someone walking off the street.
Matt Mace (16:11):
And obviously I think with that category 11, you've got to get 20 continuing education hours for the state of Indiana. Then also if you're a 107, you've also got to be taking online courses to keep that license and that 107 is good for two years, lots of licenses if that's a barrier to entry for this product. Not everybody wants to do this. I've had people that have said, Hey, I'd like to really get that license too and what steps do I need to take and that's a good place to start. Core, category 11, 107, 137
Morgan Seger (16:44):
Taking to the sky with drone application is going to give Ceres Solutions an advantage in a lot of situations. However, there are some limitations. Matt covers what those possible drawbacks are and how they're going to work around those challenges.
Matt Mace (16:57):
I did mention visibility, so they talk about visual line of sight all the time. You've got to have visibility of three statute miles according to the FAA as far as visibility with no clouds and no fog. You've got the height limit of 400 feet above ground level.
Matt Clark (17:13):
So we can't fly above that obviously most of the time I think to make an application you're going to be at 10, 11 feet above the crop. So we're not planning on flying at 400 feet anyway, but that's obviously something that we've got to watch and I think most of the time, especially the application drones, we won't be fighting that height ceiling a whole lot. Yeah. But the reason that height ceiling there kind of causes us some other issues with hobbyist drone pilots and things like that. So we're really relatively low to the ground most of the time with the application drones.
Matt Mace (17:43):
Only reason I can see that you would be going a little higher is maybe to avoid a tree, tree row or something like that or avoid an obstacle of some sort. So the DJI thirties, they do have obstacle sensing sensors on there and that hopefully going to work really well for you. You're putting a lot of trust in them, but at the same time you're going to be controlling it. It's going to show your speed, it's going to show your altitude and your proximity to the area around you where you're flying. I just want to encourage a lot of the branch managers and salespeople to make sure their boundaries are correct, not only the outer boundaries but the inner boundaries because you're going to have obstacles within that field. Maybe towers, maybe you've got windmills, maybe you've got oil pumping stations, I don't know.
But there's all kinds of things that sometimes we forget to take out of the field just for simplicity sake cause we never use it. Telephone poles, it's going to be pretty important that you take those out. It knows to fly around those because otherwise it's going to go right into 'em.
Matt Clark (18:37):
I think one other challenge that we'll run into, and you can elaborate on this some more is the tendering process. We talk about all the advantage of the drones, but it does only have an eight gallon tank. The the models we have right now, so maybe you can elaborate on that a little more.
Matt Mace (18:51):
It's got an eight gallon tank. If we spray two gallon the acre, we can do four acres per drone. So if we've got two of 'em out there, if we can do eight acres in alternating fill-ups, I guess if that makes sense, we've kind of set lofty goals at maybe 200, 250 acres a day.
Maybe we might be able to do more than that in bigger fields, maybe less than that in some more struggling days, right. Depending on how far away you are as far as moving, I mean efficiency will be gained through AgWorld and using our communication from branch to branch, we'd like to kind of work in a circle pattern and it never fails. Someone always calls you as you've pulled out of the area to do another field and what we want to avoid is that we can get people to plan with us as we work in a circle in a particular region that we can get all of those acres at that particular time while we're there and then jump to the next area and then don't fear we'll come back around and get you again. \
Matt Clark (19:46):
This is a little different too in some cases because we can't just, in every case, we can't just hop out of one field and go to one that just called in because we do have to have permission to fly in certain areas and things like that.
So there's some prerequisites that we don't have with ground machines today that we'd have to get covered with these drums.
Matt Mace (20:01):
Obviously if you're mixing different products too, you've got to clean out and different crops, different chemistries are appropriate for one crop but not another. So I think that's going to be to our advantage maybe to help with clean outs, to have several different tanks that we can use. Spraying obviously the products that we're going to spray, we want to make sure that one, they have an aerial application label. We're going to be spraying something that's not labeled and we're going to be spraying it at the volume that is recommended on the label because the label is the law that's very rudimentary, but sometimes you go back to basics with these things and some people had used hot loads where different chemistries mixed together already pre-mixed, that way you're not mixing stuff at the field, but it's different from the fact that we're used to three or 4,000 gallon tanks and we only need 150 gallons or something to do this job.
So it's totally changed the need for such and such volume and it's going to be more about precision and preciseness rather than volume and oh, we'll get it on the next time because it's going to be really important that we don't have too much extra
Matt Clark (21:04):
To make these things efficient. We always think of the tendering process as kind of the break for a custom applicator and that's not the case in this situation. It's more of a pit stop in NASCAR is really what the tendering process looks like with the drones.
Matt Mace (21:17):
Yeah, for sure. I mean if you take a product that's being sprayed at two gallon the acre and you've got a thousand gallon tank, you've got 500 acres worth of product there, it takes a logistics kind of nightmare away from spraying a lot of different batches on different fields, whereas now we've got a concentrated load that I don't have to move around, I come to it or maybe it is going to us, but we don't have to have the burden of such and such gallons on the trailer.
So in a way that's going to help efficiency dramatically.
Matt Clark (21:47):
We'll swap a battery every time, every time we fill.
Matt Mace (21:48):
Yeah, every time. It may be able to fly longer, but we're going to go ahead and have spare batteries there. They're already going to be full.
Matt Clark (21:57):
If you're able to keep the batteries cool and charge them with a big enough generator, you can operate all day with three batteries on a drone, you charging one in the drone at all times. It takes some significant generation power. I think you need 10 kilowatt per drone generator, so if you're running two, you need 20 kilowatt generator, which is the size of a home backup generator.
Matt Mace (22:16):
Pretty amazing and trying to prevent them overheating and all that is a big deal and especially when you're cycling 'em that fast and usually when you're spraying at that time of year, it's not necessarily cool.
You need shade, need some air, right,
Matt Clark (22:31):
Planning to operating them in them in pairs. So we have four DJI 30 drones and we'll operate those in pairs for the most part, so you know, can be fairly efficient with two of 'em at a time. So really you think, well four acres, that's not that much.
Matt Mace (22:45):
Well if you double it to eight, that's not bad and you figure that every eight minutes you're actually getting a lot of stuff done, which we're really excited about being able to do those because how many times have you seen a big rain event in the field saturated, but you've got calm winds, beautiful sunshine and you can't get out there across the field. So there's many times that I think that this is going to be a real advantage for us, an advantage for our customers because we can take care of those special times we're going to be able to apply and then other people won't.
Matt Clark (23:18):
Yeah, I'm excited about that too.
Matt Mace (23:20):
Yeah, that's one of my biggest, I had a lot of people maybe usually once a day people would call me and say, "Hey, can you come out and do this? I wish you had your license. We're excited about being able to help people out that way. Yeah, we will be working on the roads and inside ditches most of the time, so having that trailer to tender off of is a big safety thing. So we will have to have, if we operate 'em in pairs, we'll have to have two licensed pilots on there. Yes, because each drone, the size that we have, they each have to have a licensed pilot with them, but if we needed additional help for tendering and things like that, then that person wouldn't have to be licensed necessarily. It's going to be some pre-trip scouting and that kind of thing, making sure that the map is correct and making sure that the obstacles, there's no obstacles around and that we're not in a restricted airspace and so I think there'll be some things that we will need to check out beforehand anyway. It's kind of just like doing other regular pest site applications. You have to check your drift watch or field watch to make sure that nothing else is come up recently and also doing your due diligence on the boundary and neighbors and so on and so forth.
Morgan Seger (24:31):
The amount and type of carrier that you're using when you're making these applications can make an impact on your overall spray efficacy by impacting things like your coverage and droplet size. This is going to work differently when you're operating lower capacity drone sprayers. So next they walk us through what you can expect with this type of application from drones and what growers can expect when it comes to coverage.
Matt Mace (24:53):
Mostly I would say that we're going to have water that is going to be the primary carrier, we've thought about top dressing wheat or something like that, but it's going to be pretty hard to treat a very big field of wheat. It might get you by or something with a few gallon of carrier like water, but it's not going to be very efficient to do wheat with nitrogen, but we might be able to treat the fungicide deal. That's been a deal breaker where sometimes you can't get on the field to treat the wheat right at flowering or whatever. It's been very hard.
Matt Clark (25:26):
Yeah, I think really that's why our on the entry of these is with that fungicide acre, it translates very well. You're typically splashing around two gallons an acre with that fungicide. So with the T30 drones we have now we're going to get four acres out of each fill up, so that's kind of the entry point, but as we get into these other zone spraying and stuff like that, we may spray at a higher rate, but we'll be doing that over smaller acres.
Matt Mace (25:53):
Some of the different applicators that we talked to, some of 'em may have changed different nozzles on different size just to make sure that your coverage more complete in the middle and on the ends as far as making each pass so your coverage is really good, don't have fine droplets
Matt Clark (26:07):
And it's using the propellers to help push product out too, so that's why they can get away with not having a boom, a 30 foot boom on it as well. So those propellers are pushing product out so you're getting an even distribution. And then one thing we notice too, we want to do some testing on it is especially in soybeans, the way the prop wash works, it's not the same as a helicopter. If you think of a helicopter, it's straight down force all the time, so it almost like flattens what's below it and whereas these, it's a little less down force and you've got all the propellers so it more whirls down there, which is good in the canopy because then you can get some penetration down in the canopy on soybeans.
Matt Mace (26:42):
Your coverage on the lower leaves has always been one of the things that even we struggle with the ground rigs is making sure we get higher percentage of those lower leaves where your disease is going to maybe originate with Septoria for example, and movement of those leaves back and forth and swed around. That's really going to allow for some excellent coverage and I'm excited to see how that can do versus say 20 gallon acre of water on the ground rig. And that's kind of what we've noticed in previous tests that I've done with ground rigs going from 15 to 20 gallon, the acre doesn't sound like much five gallon, but we increased about a half a bushel to the acre going from 15 to 20 and here you're going less gallons but maybe your coverage is better with a finer droplet and getting hopefully both sides of the leaf and I think that's going to be a big advantage with ours where be able to cover both sides of the leaf.
Morgan Seger (27:31):
Drones will be able to drop in and spot spray areas in fields that need addressed, but you still have to identify those areas.
Matt Mace (27:38):
Well I would say that it's just spraying the entire field. You've got to make the shape file or the boundary for that area where you want to treat. So having that mixed up and in those cases or those instances, it might be better to have unmixed chemistry on your trailer that you could mix up a little batch to go treat this area. I don't anticipate that a lot, but it definitely could be something an advantageous where people maybe missed a skip in the field or something from previous drove wide or had maybe unbeknownst to them they had a nozzle that was turned off and there was a big green strip of cereal rye still growing out there in the field. That would be something that you could go out and go ahead and knock that down because if you've got cover crop or something, it's still alive.
That affects the growth and development of that corn crop that's being raised in that particular field or the no-till beans that are in there. It puts 'em at a disadvantage. Growth stage wise, I think the satellite imagery would be used in addition to help identify an area of concern and then going out to the field and saying, okay, this is a place where the deer bedded down out in the field. Okay, well there's no reason to spray anything there. It's differences in the foliage being reflected back in the satellite picture or maybe there's a big tile hole there that's developed in the past two months with heavy rains, so boots on the ground making sure that the satellite imagery or even the drone footage is verified what you're seeing. So we don't want it to be solely relying on just these pictures we want.
Matt Clark (29:17):
Yeah, I think and can verify that the control, the drones are kind of set up to do that. They can either go out there and draw a boundary or a own very quickly on the controller or you could load a zone map ahead of time and fly the mines that way. So it's really very flexible I think in that aspect.
Matt Mace (29:33):
I think it could be used too. We've noticed and I've had people that, especially with high wind events or something where you've had down force winds, maybe not a tornado, but it's been enough to cause stock lodging or something and that grower wants to have an idea of how many acres are affected so we might be able to fly over and then estimate how many acres might be damaged, be able to send that to a crop insurance person or send that to their FSA or something like that that might be able to be helpful to em.
Matt Clark (30:03):
You have to have a boundary because the drone flies itself once you get in there, so once you determine what the boundary or zone that is going to spray in, it's going to line out swath patterns throughout that field, so you got to create a circle of some kind or a line of some kind, but then from that it'll pick its own flight pattern inside that field.
So it is fairly smart once it gets in there, you just got to tell it where to, what your zone of operation is essentially.
Matt Mace (30:27):
I think that's what I look forward to the most is being able to design how I want it to spray because obviously especially in more urban environments, we've got more houses around and I think the drone could help us in those more sensitive areas to fly closer to the canopy and that are higher risk or something that's there that you don't want to be spraying next to you can decrease your risk by flying closer. Well maybe you've got to make more passes but you're also got less risk in that happening or maybe you're spraying buffer zones or something like that where we've turned off the sprayer and I think that's going to be a big advantage to us.
The phantom four, they've got the multi-spectral camera that we could take that image and maybe share it with the other drone in order to make the variable rate application, but the camera and the detail maybe on one and then the application may be done on the other one.
Matt Clark (31:23):
Yeah, the big drones aren't very efficient at covering acres I guess when it comes to camera capture and they have cameras on 'em but they're not great. Yeah, resolution, they're more like a backup camera on a car is what their purpose is. So the smaller drones would be more for capturing images
Morgan Seger (31:37):
While the team at Ceres Solutions is focusing on those fungicide applications for this growing season, there will be opportunities as the season progresses to look into things like cover crops.
Matt Mace (31:49):
Well that customer that asked me about that, I never even thought about doing it that way before. He said, well, I don't really want the entire field. He said, I just need the highly erodible areas. And I thought, well, we can do that. We can just sit here and draw it out on the map where you want to do it and then we will have a number of acres and then we'll load that shape file in there and we'll get some small seeds and mix it together and pour in 75 pounds and go hit that area and if that looks good to you, then we'll call it good. I foresee that rather than doing a 2000 pound mini bulk of seed filling a 75 pound hopper...
Matt Clark (32:21):
I think that's going to be the biggest invitation with cover crop is the seeding rate and how much, because we do actually have a bigger dry hoppers than we do liquid hoppers on these, but it's still a lot of filling if we are going to be doing a ton, so low rate cover crops, small seed and yeah, small seed, things like that, that's small shine.
Matt Mace (32:40):
But yeah, maybe we do some in rows because that's where people want it and that's where a lot of the aerial applicators stay 50 to 150 feet back from the power lines and that's where you want your best compaction breaking taking place is right there. I think it can be really helpful with that. A lot of times you end up with a lot of different mixes too, and this might lend itself to that where you could maybe go mix up a little specialty mix here and then go put it on or maybe mix something else for somebody else. You could kind of take those outlier mixes that the area lab cater doesn't like changing the gate on the hopper that they're carrying or sometimes time you get it right, they're done. So you've applied 3/4 of it wrong. So I guess that's one of the main things that I think could help fill in that gap
Morgan Seger (33:27):
While Ceres Solutions is executing with drone technology for the first time for hire this season, there's already a lot of future outlooks in the way this technology is going to evolve and change.
Matt Clark (33:40):
One thing we didn't talk about much or we kind of hit on a little bit I guess, but you mentioned that the 107 is, you know, got to stay up on your testing and maybe you could speak a little bit to how fast this technology is changing
Matt Mace (33:52):
At the Ag Tech expo. I think a couple of years ago in Indianapolis, and I was really surprised at the number of retailers there were. Not only that, but the size of 'em keeps getting bigger. I think the Louisville Farm Show, they had some that people could ride on. I mean, yep, this is talking about a helicopter or something equivalent. So the resolution of the cameras are unbelievable. Talking about being able to possibly see down in the canopy identifying populations of plants in a particular area to be able to see maybe even what species of weed it is.
We've talked about burr cucumber getting over the top of corn and I flew over some last year to make sure that that's what it was. And burr cucumber, if you don't know, you pull into one corner of the field and you can harvest the whole field as you put your head down in the corner, it just pulls it all in. It's like a big vine and it's a real tough weed. So we think that that could help with controlling some of some of the resolution that you can see may help eventually identify southern rust from northern corn leaf blight or maybe a hybrids tolerance versus another one's tolerance, how much better it is or what percent we've got to be able to put a number to these greenness values and how much is that value worth that foliage. 2018, we had a lot of frogeye leaf spot in soybeans and it was just an incredible stinkbug year and that's what we were trying to figure out is, okay, we've got this aerial picture showing that this untreated spot is red, but how many bushels is that? And sometimes it was seven, sometimes it was 15, sometimes it was 20 bushel the acre on soybeans. It's quite the significant loss there, especially as today's soybean prices, $13 a bushel even versus six, seven or eight. There's still a lot of money that was to be saved there. So we think that that camera picture, the resolution's only going to get better and we're going to use it for scouting even more detailed in the future.
Morgan Seger (35:54):
As Matt shared, the resolution on these cameras is getting to a level that really will change the way we will be able to scout. So I asked him his opinion on see and spray technology with drones.
Matt Mace (36:06):
I would say it's probably not far away, but you talk about the level of precision that that's going to have to take. John Deere's really advanced that and they've got some great technology and a lot of it's in how fast you can build the software and there's not a lot of, there's obviously a shortage of software builders and all that right now and weed identification, how well is it going to be able to have that identification on there.
Matt Clark (36:34):
So yeah, I think another limitation is when it comes to sea and spray, I get that a asked that question a lot and we also don't have a boom hanging out there on the drone. We do a traditional sprayer, our drones, the T 30 s about seven foot wide when it's unfolded and it sprays up to a 30 foot swath width. So you've got a lot of significant area out there with no boom to hang a camera on.
So yeah, I think camera technology's obviously going to advance to, we'll probably overcome that, but it's probably got another hurdle there that we don't have on the ground machines
Matt Mace (37:05):
And with the see and spray weed density is also a factor. If you take very competitive weed like water hemp and how dense it is, it's not going to be turned off very often. So a lot of times if there's going to be pockets or spots in the field maybe where you could save money, but this other spot where they're just solid basically might as well be on the whole time. In other areas where maybe it's not quite infested or mare's tail was the talk 11 years ago or so during the drought year, that was something that was big and no one was really even talking about water hemp then, but at that particular time mare's tail was everywhere and now it's not even really mentioned that much anymore. So I do think that the see and spray technology has its limitations as well. Maybe it might be pretty useful and pretty practical with the drone in some of the spot spraying techniques, I guess you might say.
Morgan Seger (37:56):
While the team at Ceres Solutions is keeping an eye on the future possibilities for drones, they are really focusing on what it's going to take to execute with drones this growing season. I
Matt Mace (38:06):
Would say that this is our first year, so we're starting off slow. We're very excited about being able to offer this. I think we've waited a long time and I've had a lot of growers asking me and they're getting antsy to have us out plan with your branch managers and your retail salespeople about fields that you may want to try this on. I think basically we're going to try to start this out with fungicide for this 2023 year eventually maybe looking into other micronutrients or other cover crop area, seatings do you plan with this that'll help us serve you better and the more we can plan, the better we're going to do and make sure our boundaries are correct and inner boundaries, outer boundaries, all that so we can serve you the best that way the more that you help us plan and prepare. We're not going to be able to do every acre and we don't want to do every acre.
We still need the aerial applicators to do the fields that they can, but maybe we can service gap fields or maybe we can do these outlier fields that are misshapen or whatever.
Matt Clark (39:05):
Yeah, I think that's really important. That was our first goal with this whole thing was to prop up the aerial applicators more. Yes to - they've had their shortages the last couple years as well. Sure. So being able to take their inefficient fields off of their plate, cover 'em with the drones and let them get the broad acres faster.
Matt Mace (39:20):
Because everything has to be so timely. You got to make sure that we're getting things done in a timeframe at which a product you're applying is actually going to work when you want it to not after the infection's already taken place. That's going to be very important and I think that's how we can help spread that workload out.
A lot of the growers have bigger equipment now. They can do so much in a short period of time, which means all of those acres are advancing all at the same time from start to finish. There's a lot to do at tasseling time and sometimes other fields can't get done when others are being done. We want to make sure we are able to service those acres as well. Give everybody a fair shake on those tougher acres. Maybe that's why we want to come out and be able to offer these. I think this is going to be a great service for Ceres and our customers.
Morgan Seger (40:08):
Well, that wraps up my conversation with Matt Mace from Ceres Solutions. The passion that this group has towards using this new technology to serve a group of growers with a certain set of challenges and certain set of fields is very evident. I cannot wait to follow along this summer and see how this goes for this group. And you can play a role in their success. Like they said, one of the biggest things that they will need going into this growing season is communication so they can plan their flights accordingly. To learn more about getting your fields applied with the drones this summer, reach out to your local Ceres Solutions representative.