"Saves a lot of time": Drones help California farmers cut down on costs - CBS Sacramento

COLUSA COUNTY — Farmers fighting inflation are getting creative while looking for cheaper ways to get their food on your table. Drones are changing the game by helping farmers cut down on expensive things like fuel and water.

California farmers are used to looking to the sky for rain — but not for drones. Magnetic Separator Machine

These drones aren't taking pictures. They're fertilizing crops.

"They're like a bunch of Roombas. They fly on their own flight pattern, drop what they need and come back," said Kurt George.

George is an agro-drone expert and Colusa County rice farmer who said the new technology is helping farmers fight inflation, especially when it comes to fuel as they're entirely electric.

"You have no fuel costs to operate it where you would be paying for the airplane fuel or your diesel fuel in your tractor or whatnot," he said.

"Fuel costs are out of sight and something we didn't plan on," Tom Slater said.

Slater is the owner of Slater farms and said bad weather and skyrocketing costs have hurt valley farmers.

"This year was as tough as it gets for me and many in this region," he said.

The cost of fertilizer is up as much as 80% this year, according to a new report. That prices out at an increase of about $20 per acre for wheat farms, $30 per acre for cotton farms, $40 per acre for feed grain farms, and $60 for rice farms.

That's costing some farmers well over $100,000 extra per year just to fertilize.

"It makes it tough, and you really feel it on the other end after harvest because of how much you had to put into it to get the same amount of rice off your field," George said.

They're reaping the same income, but spending way more to get there. Technology like drones are making a difference.

"A drone being able to run right over it, that saves a lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of money," George said.

That's not to mention using less water — a scarcity for valley farmers.

"It's one-tenth the amount of water you have to mix with what you are applying to the field. That adds up over time," George said.

As technology adapts, it's a change these farmers welcome.

"We get questioned all the time, some of this new technology is taking away labor. But we don't have labor to take away." Slater said.

These farmers fighting one uphill battle after the other are glad to see new technology providing relief for some of their "bottom line" burdens.

The drone can cover about 25 acres per hour. It will cost a farmer about $40,000 compared to other planes and ground rigs which can cost over $150,000.

First published on November 18, 2022 / 5:02 PM

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