Spray drones won’t fly any time soon on Canadian farms

Photo: Jason Deveau OMAFRA

Drones are flying everywhere these days but farmers can’t use them to spray pesticides on their crops. It’s illegal to fly unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) for applying crop protection products in Canada and it’s likely to stay that way for a couple of years.

Why are drones still grounded for spray application? The answer is quite simple says Jason Deveau, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs application technology specialist: “They’re ridiculously complicated and they are unlike any other application technology that we have.”

In a presentation at the recent Ontario Agricultural Conference, Deveau outlined how drone flight differs from flying a plane or a helicopter and described how it complicates spraying.

“When a helicopter is spraying it’s at full velocity, and there’s no downwash or downward wind,” explains Deveau. “But if you ever watch a helicopter spraying, once it reaches full speed, the spray just pours out behind like a plane or like Superman’s cape. On the other hand, rotary drones, no matter how fast they fly, always create a downwash and that’s going to affect how droplets move.”

This downwash effect is tough to control because it’s impacted by a host of different variables — everything from drone speed, altitude, weight, pitch, droplet size and nozzle location. Ambient windspeed and direction, obstructions, terrain and crop canopy structure have to also be factored into the equation.

In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Deveau explains how these variables can impact a drone’s ability to effectively deliver products in-crop. He also discusses the need to address pesticide formulations and the need for label and formulation adjustments for drone application.

In his presentation, Deveau outlined the issues and requirements regulators need to address for labels to be expanded to accommodate drone spraying. These include: development of best practices; build data to evaluate operator exposure and to compare application efficacy to other spraying methods; accumulate residue and draft data; build a pesticide safety certification and training materials; and address Transport Canada’s rules on drone use.

Deveau estimates it could take two years to do the work required to make drone spraying legal in Canada. See the full interview below. 

 

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