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ILVO press release - Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Exploratory research on spray drones in precision agriculture

For the first time in Flanders a test flight has been carried out with a spray drone - a drone that can apply plant protection products to field crops. ILVO, “Noordzeedrones” and Inagro are working together on a training called 'drone flying in agriculture'. Noordzeedrones has bought the spray drone, a Chinese Agras MG1. ILVO drone pilots and researchers participate in several international research projects on precision agriculture in which drones can play a role. Inagro is a partner in spray technology projects.

The first Belgian spray drone was acquired by Aerobertics and it’s no coincidence that it comes from China. The firm behind the Agras MG1 is DJI, the Chinese market leader in commercial drones. Spray drones are already in full use in China, as well as other countries, for example to reach (wet) rice fields or vineyards on steep slopes.

Elwin Van Herck of Noordzeedrones: "You can descend deeply and spray at 150 cm above the plant, so that hardly any drift can occur. As a pilot I have experienced that such a spray drone requires a high degree of flight skill. The device weighs 23.8 kg loaded. It can carry a maximum of 10 liters of spray liquid per flight."
ILVO has a permit that allows researchers to fly over the ILVO test fields, with the spray and other drones. As a result, a field in Oosterzele was the place where the first demo flight took place in the context of the specialized drone-flying training in agriculture.

Jurgen Vangeyte (ILVO): "Drones with cameras are part of our research on how to farm with a lot more precision in space and time. An important goal of precision farming is to make efficient use of inputs such as manure, water and pesticides, even with large acreage, and to obtain better harvests, leading to both economic and ecological sustainability."

In concrete terms, the experiments with the spray drone at ILVO take place in two ongoing research projects:

  • the Interreg2seas project ICARES, which demonstrates to the agricultural sector which applications (can) go with drone images of the crops,
  • and the new H2020 thematic network INNOSETA, in which ILVO, together with partners from 8 European countries and with a number of European umbrella organizations, will explore the most modern possibilities in (precision) spray technology for farmers.

Koen Mertens (ILVO): "It is still uncertain whether spraying drones in Europe or in the agricultural sector can become relevant for certain applications, such as site-specific spraying and challenges related to soil compaction. This potential added value is now being examined critically in the research."

In any case, there are also legal hurdles to jump regarding drone use in agriculture. A farmer may only start flying a drone above his agricultural fields if he first has a permit from the Belgian government. One requirement is that you are a trained drone pilot and you register your device. According to Belgian legislation RP RPAS 2016, you are not allowed to work with a spray drone at all at this time.

Read more & videos:

ICAReS

Innoseta

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Contact

Koen Mertens (ILVO drone and precision agriculture research): Koen.Mertens@ilvo.vlaanderen.be, M +32 486 21 70 17
Elwin Van Herck (North Sea Platoon): elwin@noordzeedrones.be, M +32 477534370
Greet Riebbels (ILVO communication): Greet.Riebbels@ilvo.vlaanderen.be, M +32 486 26 00 14