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Field Flyers

CFE’s flight plan for drone-powered aerial application takes off.

CFE is advancing down the runway of cutting-edge agricultural solutions with a strategic investment in application drones. This investment stems from our commitment to excellence and aims to bring a new dimension of service offerings to our members.

Darren Fehr, CFE Director of Sales, foresees a promising future in this new venture. “We expect that the demand will be high. We want to be as good as we can be in year one,” Darren shares, outlining CFE’s plans for the drone project.

 

Drone Dynamics

The cooperative has set its sights on drones produced by DJI, a popular manufacturer with a variety of innovations, including camera drones, enterprise and agricultural drone solutions and even automotive technology. CFE will be using the AGRAS T40 model, a dual sprayer with a substantial 10-gallon tank capacity.

“The capabilities of these drones are impressive,” Darren emphasizes. “They promise efficiency and precision in application, crucial aspects in the agricultural landscape.”

The AGRAS T40 is equipped with a coaxial twin rotor design—the key to its impressive tank capacity. In addition to the dual rotors, the drone also features a dual atomized spray disc that ensures every drop is consistent and each acre is covered evenly. The T40’s exclusive centrifugal valve helps prevent leaks and avoid over-fertilization. 

The battery-powered drone can cover 40 acres an hour, boasting impressive coverage efficiency for the small machine. This efficiency extends to cleaning the machine as well. According to DJI, the spreading device can be dismantled in just three minutes and washed with water. Plus, the drone is designed to be foldable, reducing the size by 70% and creating an even more portable aircraft.

Obstacle detection is another key benefit of the AGRAS T40. The drone is equipped with an Active Phased Array Radar and binocular vision sensor system, which provide optimal security through 360-degree obstacle sensing. Land boundaries and obstacles can be established while planning flight routes, but the technology can also identify and avoid unexpected obstacles on the spot.

 

Taking Flight

For the initial program launch, CFE plans to deploy six drones, organized in three swarms of two drones each. An aerial application operations manager will spearhead the initiative and ensure proper training and licensing for the team involved.

The drones are expected to be ready for take-off in time for soybean pre-emergent herbicide applications. While traditional methods using ground rigs and aerial applications will still be used, CFE anticipates significant growth in our fungicide business through drone application.

The rollout plan includes an emphasis on pre-emergent soybeans and fungicides, followed by larger-scale deployment for post-emergent treatments in the future. However, CFE’s vision isn’t confined to traditional agricultural fields. As we continue to establish the drone program, we plan to expand the reach to accommodate broader applications, including conservation lands and even non-agricultural use.

 

Plans for Progress

While the drone fleet’s primary focus will begin with chemical application, the technology’s potential future uses extend beyond applicator capabilities. Drones are also being used in agriculture to collect data, scout fields for pests and disease and provide crop health insights at a glance. As the technology progresses, so will the scope of applications. For now, however, CFE is focused on ensuring effective, reliable sprayer applications with the drone fleet.

CFE’s introduction of drone technology also opens the door for a new talent pool. Adding drone pilots to the CFE team is not expected to eliminate all labor needs or challenges for the cooperative, but we are confident the talented individuals will be a positive addition that will further strengthen our workforce.

In terms of pricing for the new service, CFE’s priority remains on delivering value at a fair price to our customers. “We want to have a return on our invested time more than a return on the invested asset,” Darren shares.

Jesse Korselman, business development lead for this project, will be a primary point of contact. His experience and familiarity with drones position him well to handle queries and offer insights.

As CFE ventures into this new chapter, we anticipate our excitement to be matched by members, with a high demand for drone applicator services. We are committed to exceeding expectations and delivering quality service for our members in this endeavor. We look forward to continuing to optimize this service for CFE members and providing more cutting-edge technology and practices in the future.

 

FAQs

Q: How many drones is CFE purchasing?
A: CFE plans to deploy six drones, organized in three swarms of two drones each. An aerial application operations manager will spearhead the initiative and ensure proper training and licensing for the team involved.

Q: How can I access the drones for spraying my fields?
A: Work with your agronomist to determine the best options.

Q: Are the use of land rigs and aerial application still going to be available at CFE?
A: Yes! The drones are meant to add to our application fleet—not replace it. We’ve invested in our equipment and the experts who manage them, and that will not be going away.

Q: When should I expect to see drones in fields?
A: The drones are expected to be ready in time for soybean pre-emergent herbicide applications.

Q: Who should I reach out to if I have questions?
A: Your agronomist has been briefed on these new additions, and are excited to talk to each of you about the potential use of this service for your operation.

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