The Yamaha RMAX has been experimenting with 16 total liters of payload capacity to spot-spray high value crops such as wine grapes.
The Yamaha RMAX has been experimenting with 16 total liters of payload capacity to spot-spray high value crops such as wine grapes.

So far, drones in agriculture have been deployed (at worst) as an expensive on-farm toy and (at best) a savvy crop scouting and image gathering tool. The technology has rarely been envisioned as a crop chemical delivery system. Is that about to change?

Perhaps, thanks to companies like Yamaha and Drone Volt.

Yamaha has been testing a relatively large helicopter-style drone called the RMAX – equipped with a 10 ft. diameter wingspan and two 8-liter payloads – on California vineyards. The drone is able to spot-spray a fungicide to control powdery mildew, a common yet damaging problem in grapes. Yamaha has worked with the University of California-Davis since 2012 and made its first commercial applications earlier this spring.

"We've followed the UC Davis research trials and evaluations pretty closely," says  Brittany Pederson, viticulturist for Silverado Farming Company. "The results of those trials and conclusions drawn from work at the Oakville Experimental Vineyards were pretty strong and gave us the confidence to begin our own experiments with the RMAX on privately owned commercial vineyards."

Yamaha cites several benefits to using the RMAX, including no soil compaction, faster speed and better efficiency versus ground spray applications. In Japan, the helicopters are already being used for seeding and spraying rice.

In April 2016, Yamaha opened an office at the Napa County Airport specifically to cater to commercial applications for farmers in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Meantime, in France, Drone Volt has found a high-tech solution for a noxious invasive pest called the Asian hornet. The insect has a toxic venom and feeds on local bees – it currently has spread through three-fourths of France. The Drone Volt, equipped with a tilting aerosol jet, allows users to fly the drone up to the hornet nests and dispatch of them from relative safety.

The quadcopter drone takes 10 minutes to prep, and with an HD camera, users can make a quick visual and dispatch of troublesome hornet nests in about five minutes. The payload capacity is a 750 ml aerosol can – relatively small, but large enough for the job it is designed to do.

What will be the next capabilities for drones in agriculture? It’s anybody’s guess – but don’t discount the potential of payloads.

To learn more about drones in agriculture, visit www.FarmWithDrones.com.