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Are Drones the Future of Agriculture?

Some say that in California, farmers are on the front lines of the most advanced STEM-related career fields and developments.

From ChatGPT to surgical robots and self-parking cars, it seems no stone has been left unturned in an era of rapidly evolving innovations. And, of particular interest in California, that includes agriculture.

In fact, some might say those in agriculture stand on the front lines of the most advanced STEM-related career fields and developments. In recent years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has become increasingly involved with farmers and their communities with a handful of ag-related programs including the NASA Acres Consortium, which just launched in March.

In addition to supporting key commodity crop growers, NASA Acres is dedicated toward working with smallholder farmers such as those in Maui County, Hawaii, and specialty crop growers in California. Those partnered with the consortium will be able to utilize satellite data and other machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to optimize nitrogen application and irrigation scheduling. Such applications may also support the early detection of pests and disease with the ultimate goal of bolstering local food production and soil health.

Next comes a technology that originated in the throes of World Wars I and II.

The Aerial Target and Kettering Bug were the first two recognized drone models, the former produced by the British Royal Navy and the latter invented by Charles Kettering in the United States. These early 1900s models have come a significantly long way from their employment in the military and reconnaissance. Less than a century later, hobbyists across the globe have been dipping their feet into the world of drone operation and the creative applications seem to be endless. Drones have now been used in search and rescue missions, package delivery, landscape and realty photography, and even the film industry.

So how are drones being used in agriculture?

According to Hylio, a Texas-based manufacturer of the AgroDrone, drones are quickly emerging as a game changer, revolutionizing traditional farming practices and significantly reducing costs associated with fuel and water consumption.

Representatives with Hylio explained that their drones follow predefined patterns to efficiently fertilize crops, offering farmers an effective and economical alternative in the face of rising fertilizer prices. These AgroDrones are capable of being remotely operated and programmed with various treatment missions. Furthermore, customers are able to store and access all flight and application data on their own AgroSol accounts for further analysis. This data can be exported in a variety of formats to streamline billing, regulatory compliance and planning.

The agricultural departments for both Yuba and Sutter counties reported that currently, drones are not commonly used in the area for agricultural pesticide applications. However, the Sutter County Agricultural Department does have information available on how to obtain an Unmanned Pest Control Aircraft Pilot Certificate within the state of California.

In California, people are required to have the appropriate California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) pilot’s certificate to apply pesticides by any unmanned aircraft system (UAS). These certificates come in three different categories: UAS Apprentice, UAS Journeyman, and Vector Control Technician. Interested applicants must first obtain the appropriate licensure, certification or authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Once this is obtained, applicants are eligible to take one of the appropriate DPR UAS exams.

More information about drones and processes for certification can be found online at For more information about Hylio and AgroDrone use, visit Hylio.

(c)2023 the Appeal-Democrat (Marysville). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.