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Drones bring wave of the future to local farmers

By: Katherine Trowbridge

The Franklin County Growers meeting was hosted by the Franklin County Weed Board in Connell on Wednesday, Jan. 25 with over 100 farmers attending. Farmers shared that there was a lot of good information provided and a good lunch provided by Back 40 BBQ. Among those presenting was “Altitude Agri Services” a company based out of Richland, WA that is up and coming with new technology to assist the farming community. The company is owned by Melody and Kurt Beckley. Beckley stated, “It started as an avenue to provide another tool to dryland wheat farmers and has metamorphosed into basically anything you can imagine.”

Altitude Agri Services says on their website, “It’s not quite how dad and grandpa used to do it! For centuries, farmers have walked their fields monitoring the health of their crops. It’s a time consuming process and not always the most effective. But this is changing - Agricultural drones are becoming a key driver to helping farmers increase crop production, monitor and inspect crop growth, build a richer picture of their fields, improve farming efficiency, and maximize outputs.” Among the items listed in the quote, there are also a variety of other services they can provide from finding a lost dog in a field, herding cattle, to drying cherries while also applying fungicide. “Use your imagination, we can do it,” Beckley said, “We don’t want to replace the crop duster. We are a vegetation management tool.”

While their presentation was pretty informative, the outside demonstration that followed awed farmers. One drone can cover 30 acres an hour. The company has nine drones overseen by three licensed pilots. However, the drones fly autonomously and can follow the terrain quite well. They also have thermal imaging capabilities. The demonstration took the three drones on display up into the air and across a field showcasing their capabilities while also showing how they spray. They can carry eight gallons a piece and spray up to a max of 2700 acres a day with the nine drones, they shared as the drones went to work. Farmers looked on, some took out their phones to record or take photos, others asked questions. The drones run on four batteries. Chris Eskildesen, owner of B&R Arial Crop Care expressed, “I don’t see it putting me out of business anytime soon. I do see a niche for this.” Farmers shared, “It’s the wave of the future.” Others worked figures on cost and how they may incorporate drones into their farming arsenal of tools; while others looked on, taking it all in.

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