Farmers Eyeing Drones to Seed Cover Crops

Evidence of the early Native American Adena culture in Ohio dates back to around 1,000 BC. The Adena built semipermanent farming communities throughout Ohio. Studies show that they planted squash and corn to support a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Since then, Ohio has had a rich history supported by agricultural communities. Today, agriculture represents 14% of all jobs in Ohio, contributing more than $100 billion to the state’s economy annually.

According to statistics gathered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 75,800 farms covering 13,700,000 acres of land were in operation in Ohio in 2023. The majority of these farms are dedicated to soybean and corn crops, each bringing in more than $3 billion a year. Many of these farms are supported by research conducted at the Ohio State University’s (OSU) Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE).

Many research programs conducted at FABE center around the benefits of drone technology in agriculture. Some of the research topics include using drones to identify crop risk, soil management, plant health, and more. Three years ago FABE began experimenting with using drones to plant crops, something they continue to do to this day. Specifically, farmers throughout Ohio are using drones to seed cover crops.

As defined by the USDA, “Cover crops are grasses, legumes, and other forbs that are planted for erosion control, improving soil structure, moisture, and nutrient content, increasing beneficial soil biota, suppressing weeds, providing habitat for beneficial predatory insects, facilitating crop pollinators, providing wildlife habitat, and as a forage for farm animals. Furthermore, cover crops can provide energy savings both by adding nitrogen to the soil and making more soil nutrients available, thereby reducing the need to apply fertilizer.”

Cover crops do not need to be planted as precisely as other crops because they aren’t intended for harvesting as with typical crops. In a paper by FABE student Alex Thomas and his advisor, Professor John Fulton, they explain how planting cover crops with standard machinery in a timely manner can be cumbersome and time consuming. They say that many of the agricultural drones on the market used for spraying wet chemicals like pesticides are already equipped to spray dry matter, like seeds.

These larger agricultural drones need to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. Costing anywhere from $3,000-$25,000, agricultural drones can carry a payload ranging from 45-65 pounds. For a payload consisting of seeds, one drone can cover a lot of acreage in a short period of time. Drone seeding is usually done by two people, one to operate the drone and another to be an observer to ensure everything goes smoothly and safely.

Alex and Professor Fulton go on to list some of the benefits of using drones to seed cover crops. They say how a drone can be used to plant cover crops during crucial times when accessing fields can be difficult. This could be to plant low-cover crops among existing crops like corn, during winter months, or even after heavy rainfall. The paper also notes how drones are easier to transport than heavy machinery typically used for planting. And since the drone never comes in contact with the ground, it poses less of a chance of damaging soil as heavy machinery does.

While Alex and Professor Fulton are excited about the many benefits drones provide to the agricultural industry, they do recognize some of the drawbacks. Such as being sure to comply with ever changing regulations, short battery life, and the fact that a drone still has a smaller payload capacity than say a tractor. Another issue is the education and planning that goes into preparing farmers for using emerging drone technology.

“In summary,” Alex and Professor Fulton state, “drones are changing the game for cover crop seeding and other agricultural practices. The use of drones for cover crop application represents a new tool for Ohio farmers, offering a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution. Their ability to access challenging areas, transportability, and safety benefits make them valuable tools for Ohio farmers. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect even more innovative solutions to enhance sustainable farming practices.” Drone technology has the potential to see Ohio farmers maintain the level of agricultural success they have become known for.

ABOUT US: is a Nationwide Media Company specializing in custom Drone Videos for real estate, commercial, farms, construction, golf courses, roof inspections and more. All of our Drone Operators are fully licensed and insured. When you purchase a Drone Video Package from us, you will receive a video professionally edited, color corrected and presented to you on an SEO-Friendly webpage that you can easily share online and on Social Media with a click of a button. Click here to get started.

Previous Drone News:

Start Your Order
We Offer a Variety of Drone Video Packages
to Fit Your Needs and Budget