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The future of farming: Britain’s first crop-spraying drone put to the test

The UK’s first crop-spraying drone has been put to the test in a Norfolk wheat field – offering a tantalising glimpse into farming’s hi-tech future.

While the vision of autonomous farm-bots buzzing around the countryside seems a distant prospect, the ground-breaking trial at Letton, near Shipdham, proves the potential for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to treat crops from the air.

Chris Eglington of technology firm Crop Angel is using the equipment to spray biostimulants on a test plot at his farm, as part of a yield enhancement trial in partnership with Harper Adams University and fellow UAV specialists Drone AG.

While drones are already well used in agriculture to monitor crops and gather data on plant health, Mr Eglington says this is the first time a UAV has legally been used to spray an agricultural product on UK soil.

Although the consortium won approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to drop products from the air, he said it is not yet allowed to drop most mainstream commercial agrochemicals or pesticides, as they are not approved to do so by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate.

But he said the trial was a good indication of how this technology could potentially be applied in the future.

“The way I see something like this working would be if it is autonomous it could be working 24/7 so if the weather station tells the drone the weather is just right for spraying then the drone could get up, go and do its spraying, come back, refuel, re-load and go up again,” he said.

“In the short term I think it could be used to spray places where it is difficult to spray any other way. A boom sprayer cannot go over a mountain and cannot go over a very high crop or a wood, so there are three examples straight away where a drone will be able to spray.

Report by Eastern Daily Press. You can read the full report here. You can also watch a video on site.

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