(TNS) — The Federal Aviation Administration has given a small company in Fulton, New York, the green light to begin spraying crops with drones.
Empire Drone Co. said Wednesday it has received approval -- called a Part 137 certification -- from the FAA to begin offering the service to farmers.
“We’ve joined just a handful of drone companies in the U.S. with this certification,” said Sean Falconer, who operated an aerial photography business before founding Empire Drone with retired Fulton firefighter John McGraw in 2018.
Falconer said the company plans to begin offering crop-spraying service around New York starting this spring, using drones to apply pesticides, herbicides and seeds to orchards and farms.
“We want to see this technology all over New York,” said Falconer.
Spraying by drones is faster and saves farmers money because it requires less equipment, chemicals and labor compared with spraying from the back of a tractor, he said. That’s especially true in hilly terrain where it is difficult for tractors to reach, he said.
The company’s drones can spray up to 24 acres an hour and can fly along a pre-programmed path or be operated manually for spot spraying, the company said. With the help of an onboard radar system, they can maintain a consistent elevation a few feet above a field, according to the company.
The drones reduce applicators’ exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, and their accuracy can also reduce the amount of run-off into the environment, according to the company.
In addition to doing the spraying itself, the company plans to sell crop-spraying drones to farm owners and show them how to obtain their own FAA certification, Falconer said.
Empire Drone is not the first Central New York company to use drones to spray crops. Dropcopter, a startup based at The Technology Garden in Syracuse, uses drones to pollinate orchards.
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