Drone use

Farmers have seen hundreds of technologies come and go that didn’t prove their worth. So when drones started circling over agriculture a few years ago, it wasn’t surprising the hype of their practicality was met with great skepticism. While some products were good, others were simply not suited for ag. 

By developing an end-to-end solution that delivers inputs precisely when and where they are needed, Michael Ott is working to retool the technology’s message. 

“Drones can do more than just capture imagery for field data,” says Ott, founder and CEO of Rantizo. “Our platform leverages that data to bridge the gap from analysis to action.”

Retooling the Message

Michael Ott headshot
Photo credit: Rantizo
Launched in 2018, Rantizo combines a DJI Agras MG-1P drone, autonomous hardware, and proprietary software that identifies problem areas, diagnoses field issues, sprays and applies required treatments, and then verifies issues have been addressed accurately. 

“Spraying crops is necessary, but conventional options, such as ground rigs and crop dusters, have their challenges,” Ott says. “Traditional methods can reduce yield by 1% to 3% due to crop destruction and upwards of 5% to 15% from soil compaction. Without precision capabilities, you can also see drift and wastage anywhere from 1% to 10%.” 

Equipped with a boom sprayer that has a 20-foot swath, ag-grade components, and a 2.7-gallon tank, Rantizo can apply liquids (e.g., pesticides) and solid products (e.g., fertilizer, cover crop seed, beneficial insects).  

“Based on aerial imagery, I only spray the trouble spots vs. the whole field, which reduces costs, prevents overspraying, and slows weed resistance to pesticides. It’s a win for the farmer and the environment,” says Brian Pickering, who firmly believes a drone is a perfect fit in driving efficiency and sustainability on his Iowa farm. “I can also spray soon after it rains; a big rig can’t in muddy conditions.”

While his initial plan was to use the system only on his farm, Pickering says it became apparent the technology could also be beneficial as a custom application service. A licensed, insured, trained, and certified application service contractor for Rantizo, Pickering applied microbiome products in June for a farmer who is working with an ag university to test and document how corn responds to the products. 

“This is an inexpensive, accurate way to test new products on your farm,” he says, adding that in lieu of fall tillage with machinery, he is also working with farmers to test the success of cover crops through drone application.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with other farmers, and it is a great learning experience for all of us,” Pickering says.

Also an application service contractor, Mike Maguire intends to use his Wisconsin farm as a testing ground for timely aerial application of seed, fertilizer, and chemicals throughout the growing season. “Farmers benefit not only from having the ability to spray fields that can be difficult to get to because of weather, but they also won’t compact or tear up fields or run down crops using a drone,” he says.

Key Upgrades

In the near term, Rantizo plans to add an autonomous Mix & Fill station to increase the drone’s productivity from 14 to 23 acres per hour.

“We recently received approval to swarm with three drones, which allows us to cover about 40 acres per hour,” Ott says. “Swarming with the station gets us to about 60 acres per hour – close to what a tractor can do. By the end of 2020, we will be as productive as a tractor.”

“I believe drones are on the cutting edge for ag,” Maguire says. “In a few short years, they will be as common as computers are today.”

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