Drones spreading intercrop seeds and bio-control products over ripening Corn fields
Sawing a Clover intercrop over Corn before harvest
Why sawing an intercrop ? Leguminous plants are often planted after harverst on Corn fields. This method prevents soil erosion during the winter season, preserves the soil fauna, brings nutrients and even reduces weeds for the next crop. Moreover, in Europe temporal intercropping are compulsory to qualify for European financial contributions.
When and how to sow the intercrop ? The best time to interseed cover crops into corn is straight after harvest, when it’s still warm and sunny enough for sprouting, i.e. September in most fields of the Northern Hemisphere. But how to avoid disturbing the corn before harvest? In the past two techniques have already been tried, with limited success :
• A high clearance tractor with a special seeder: Takes a lot of time to avoid Corn crop damages.
• A helicopter: Expensive, and the rotor creates a depression that hinders homogeneous seedling.
"This cover crop spreading technique will enable farmers to reduce their use of fertilizer and phytosanitary products therefore to improve the quality of the soil and crops" Patrice Rosier, co-founder and co-director of Reflet du monde
Intercrop sawing drones experimented in France
Ovalie innovation center and the drone experts Reflet du Monde have been experimenting the use of aerial seedling for a few years, with a first real-scale experimentation in september 2017 on Corn crops and vineyards. On the vine there are still many challenges unsolved, like the seedling of large seeds needing caching, or the accuracy of seedling.
Over 1.3 hectares (about 3 acres) of ripening Corn have been planted with Clover in 2017. The trial was a success, confirming the potential of intercrop sawing drones and giving clues of improvement, notably the size of the drone: That version was carrying 4 kg (9 pounds) of seeds, requiring 2 or 3 fillings per hectare.
In september 2018 the spreading system and the sawing techniques have been improved. Trials have been conducted in two locations in France, with various rainfall levels, on a total of 5 hectares (13 acres). The results have confirmed the interest of the process since intercrop implantation was successful with all the seed mixtures tested (mainly clover).
The 2018 version of the drone is 2-meters-wide span and able to carry up to 10 kilos of weight, it will be able to spread living auxiliaries such as trichogrammas, cover crop seeds and even liquid treatment for crop bio-control. Still the spreading system can be improved, and the building process optimized for a commercial release in 2020.
Update June 2019 : Reflet du Monde has officially released its drone, an improved version of the 2018 one. It's available for purchase !
"Of course there is a fashion trend with drones. But I consider it like a vehicule able to transport loads in inaccessible areas. We need to remain modest, but we are determined to benefit from technological advances" Stephane Ballas, project manager at Ovalie Innovation
Maïsadour and Vivadour, agronomy pioneers
Maïsadour and Vivadour, are agricultural cooperatives, and their innovation joint-subsidiary Ovalie promotes new ideas and enhances the competitivity of agricultural and industrial activities of the two groups.
Maïsadour is also a top European seed provider of corn and oil seeds. Their research department is powered by RnDExp™ breeding software by Doriane. In addition to the Experimentation and Breeding module, the automatisation portion of RnDExp® enables users to work securely (To do list, triggering of actions on certain dates, validation of results) allowing also a gain in productivity for their teams.
« The performance and ease of transition to the new version RnDExp® really hit the mark. Our own hybrid breeding process has been perfectly modeled in RnDExp®. The cooperation between technical teams and Doriane was very effective, and the project was completed on-time and on-budget.” Alain Taillardat – Research director, MAISADOUR
Other sources :
• Images and details from Christophe Van Veen's article (Radio France) on France Bleu website https://www.francebleu.fr/infos/agriculture-peche/dans-les-landes-des-graines-semees-par-un-drone-c-est-une-premiere-en-france-1505838470