As farmers and agribusiness professionals eagerly await the full approval of the use of drones by the Federal Aviation Administration, one company has already received a special certification for its drones to apply crop protection products.

In December 2015 Yamaha Motor Corp., USA, received Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operations Certification from the FAA, which was a first for an unmanned aerial system. The certification enabled Yamaha to begin agricultural spraying in the U.S., subject to approval by state and local authorities in areas where the RMAX remotely piloted helicopters will be used. Within the U.S. agricultural research community, Yamaha has collaborated with University of California, Davis to extensively research, evaluate and validate the application of RMAX for specialized agricultural spraying.

Now, Yamaha has launched its first commercial operation of its RMAX remotely piloted helicopter for agriculture spraying service in the U.S. The RMAX flight was completed this week in California for Napa-based Silverado Farming Company, a leading vineyard management company. During its debut the RMAX applied a fungicide for preventative control of powdery mildew—one of the most common fungal diseases affecting grapes and many other crops.

For Yamaha, the U.S. debut of RMAX commercial services for the agricultural industry marks the culmination of several years working with the FAA to receive appropriate certifications, as well as extensive field research with the University of California, Davis. A representative from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation was on hand to witness Yamaha’s inaugural commercial spray application with RMAX this week in Napa Valley.

“We’ve been diligently working toward this U.S. milestone for RMAX since 2012, when our research partnership with UC Davis began,” said Brad Anderson, a market development manager for Yamaha’s Unmanned Systems Division. “It’s gratifying to have earned support from both the aviation and agricultural communities. RMAX provides a unique and effective solution for spray applications, particularly for grape growers with vineyards on slopes or difficult terrain.”

In April 2016 Yamaha opened a new office at the Napa County Airport to support RMAX commercial spray services for growers primarily located in Napa and Sonoma counties. The Napa office is dedicated exclusively to supporting RMAX spraying services for agricultural industry clients. RMAX is the only licensed unmanned aerial system (UAS) in Napa.

Brittany Pederson, a professional pest control adviser and viticulturist for Silverado Farming Company, said the RMAX provides a promising solution for grape growers in California’s wine country. “We’ve followed the UC Davis research trials and evaluations pretty closely,” said Pederson. “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.”

RMAX offers several benefits, including safe and reliable application of treatments with no soil compaction. The RMAX has also proven to be faster and more efficient than current ground spray applications (both wheeled and foot). It provides growers with more flexibility and accessibility to their fields, giving them another option for applications.

Today there are 2,500 Yamaha RMAX helicopters in operation worldwide spraying more than 2.4 million agricultural acres annually. RMAX has been used for agricultural spraying with many crops including rice, wheat, soybeans and vegetables.

For more information about RMAX or its use for agricultural spraying services in the U.S., visit YamahaPrecisionAgriculture.com.