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Custom-Built Cover Crop Seeding Drone
Drones being marketed for use in agriculture keep getting bigger, but they still have their limits, notes Tom Leitgen, Aeroseeder. Leitgen does custom application of crop protection chemicals, as well as in-season seeding of cover crops. He also sells drones equipped for spraying fields, and one he builds specifically for seeding cover crops.
  “In the past year, the market has exploded, with Chinese companies introducing drones with 60 to 110 lb. carrying capacities,” says Leitgen. “I have one I sell that has a 110 lb. capacity.”
  Leitgen designed and built his own after failing to find a commercial alternative suitable for cover crops. The Aeroseeder AS30 seeding drone shares the lift-generating multi-mini helicopter aspects of traditional drones. However, the 65-in. dia. hoop frame supports a cone-shaped seed bag to hold the 30-lb. payload of seed. The design also differs with its 55-in. height landing gear.
  The AS30 has GPS-controlled positioning and features an adjustable seeding rate, sensor-controlled altitude and terrain following, and an automatic “return when empty/resume where left off” function.
  “I went with aluminum versus carbon fiber because it’s more cost-effective,” says Leitgen. “Conventional drones need a nice flat surface for landing. My landing gear design is more stable when landing in weeds or soft and uneven ground with its wide footprint.”
  Dedicated software also differentiates the AS30 from its competitors. Leitgen has worked with a software firm to develop control software specific to agriculture and cover crop seeding.
  “Our software is more flexible in terms of distance flown,” says Leitgen. “We have certain functions we can turn on and off as needed. Seeding cover crops is easier than applying chemicals. We don’t have to fly as close to the ground.”
  The AS30 can seed up to 240 acres in 8 hrs. Leitgen notes that while a flight to distribute seed may take 4 1/2 min., that likely includes 2 min. of ferry time back and forth to the area being seeded. The 6-min. refill is the bottleneck in the process.
  “I’m looking at adding peripherals to speed reloading,” says Leitgen. “Now we have one man filling and weighing buckets of seed and a second person filling the seed hopper. At the end of the day, having handled 1,000 lbs. of seed, I know I was out there working.”
  While flight patterns are programmed, landing and takeoff remain a manual control job. Leitgen is looking at light guidance systems that would automate landing at a precise point. This would facilitate having multiple drones on a trailer with an automated refill system.
  Currently, drones are most efficient at specialty jobs, such as in-season cover crop seeding or applying chemicals in small, odd-shaped fields. Leitgen notes that they’re also effective at applying very low-rate products such as fungicides at 2 gal. per acre.
  “When you’re trying to handle a large volume, the drone is just one small piece of the puzzle,” says Leitgen. “Sooner or later, drones will be making major applications. However, if doing 50 gal. per acre, you must have certain efficiencies built into the system.”
  “Chinese companies are now the market leaders, and they have some very good products,” says Leitgen. “Package delivery and other novel uses are still hard to justify. In agriculture, we have people willing to pay us to do the work because a drone is often the best piece of equipment to do the job.”
  “We’re planning to launch a model with an American-made brain in 2024,” says Leitgen. “It’s becoming more important to have American-made components to know you can control the data. Anyone dealing with infrastructure should be concerned about back doors in Chinese-made drones.”
  While FAA regulations have been slow to adapt to drone use, Leitgen is encouraged about changes being considered. Insurance is now available from several companies.
  “Farmers don’t want to have to wait to do what they want done,” says Leitgen. “Given the price of a new tractor or drill, $25,000 for a sprayer drone or $17,500 for my AS30 is cheap enough, and they’re easy to use.”
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Aeroseeder, P.O. Box 69, Garnavillo, Iowa 52049 (ph 563-235-3460; info@aeroseeder.com; www.aeroseeder.com).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #3