Soybean field grows in front of a corn field

(Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Foliar applications with drone technologies in 2020

April 9, 2021 | Anthony Martin

The Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI) is focused on making farmers productive and profitable. One way of determining effective products and practices on the farm is putting them to the test through an on-farm trial.

ISA Field Service Manager Anthony Martin did just that in southeast Iowa. Working with area contract applicators using Rantizo, an agricultural drone spraying platform, Martin coordinated foliar application trials to test the effectiveness of using drones in fungicide and zinc applications. The foliar products were applied in late July and early August as first or second pass applications for given projects.

Using this system for replicated strip trials proved to be easy as one of the features is the ability to provide prescription maps the drone would apply. While other aerial application methods can provide some coverage to a predetermined area, the autonomous drone is pre-programmed to apply only in the designated area, providing for more precise application areas and lower chemical use to areas not targeted for application. Layering this type of precision in conjunction with mapping services may help farmers avoid over application to unstressed areas of the field.

In a single trial, strips of Delaro fungicide and insecticide were applied with a sprayer (66.5 bushels per acre) next to drone-applied (67.0 bushels per acre) and an Untreated Check (64.1 bushels per acre). From this single site, a few observations can be shared:

  • Overall, there was virtually no difference between the application methods which we would consider a positive outcome.
  • One of the benefits and goals of using drones is to have the variable rate capabilities and focus application efforts to those stressed areas instead of entire fields.
  • Initial yield results and comparisons showed areas where applying no fungicide would have been the best option, indicating the potential for a variable application.
Martin compares the effectiveness of the various application methods in this video.