The Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) market has grown tremendously over the past decade. This technology is evolving every day, and the demand for drone applications has revolutionized the agricultural industry. Through a new partnership involving the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the sky is no longer the limit for agricultural research.

Steve Li, weed scientist and agricultural roboticist with Alabama Extension. (contributed)

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 an industry leader. Thanks to a donation from Agri Spray Drones, Alabama Extension at Auburn University is the first land-grant institution in the US to begin agricultural research with the new T40 model.

Doubling down on research

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

“We are now able to conduct more on-farm trials and spray more efficiently using both sprayer drones,” Li said. “At the same time, we can generate data from multiple models in multiple crops, speeding up field studies and technology advancement.”

According to Li, an agricultural UAS expert, the drone industry is moving fast. UAS technology often exceeds the opportunities for training and demonstration. Staying on the cutting edge of technology enables Alabama Extension to conduct important training for stakeholders and improve the livelihoods of growers in the state.

Proper alignment

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

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

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

Moreland said it is essential for his company to create and provide information on proper 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 create a better life.”

Multipurpose drones

It can be difficult to imagine a drone the size of an average golf cart. Enter the DJI Agras T40. This model features a relatively lightweight frame, larger tank size and rotary-style nozzles for even product delivery.

“Spraying drones can be used by many people – not just seed farmers,” Li said. “A lot of people have the misconception that this only applies if you grow crops like corn, cotton, soybeans or peanuts.”

Several farmers use these systems for the cultivation of special crops such as pumpkins (squash, zucchini, watermelon, etc.), peaches, ornamental plants and cherries. Some pest control companies also use sprayer drones to control mosquitoes.

The use cases don’t stop with treating existing crops. Sprayer drones are capable of spreading seeds in food plots, as well as dry fertilizers. Consumers can now plant green fields remotely.

Forestry operations also benefit from spraying drones. Lumber producers will now have more options for treating sawn timber. Using a spray drone will provide a cheaper alternative to hiring a helicopter service or skid sprayer for such a task, especially in small fields and very remote areas. Spray drones also have potential to precisely manage common invasive species such as cogon grass and kudus in forests, rights of way and parks. They can also control aquatic weeds in areas of ponds and rivers where boats cannot easily reach.

For more information about drones and how they affect agriculture, search for “drones” in the search bar of Alabama Extension’s website,

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