Autonomous Applicator Will Treat California Vegetable Crops in 2023

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Guardian Agriculture's electric, vertical take-off and landing aircraft will begin applying crop protection products over vegetable fields in the Salinas Valley of California beginning in 2023. (Photo courtesy of Guardian Agriculture)

Guardian Agriculture, a developer of a fully autonomous, battery-driven crop protection aircraft system, has secured a multi-million-dollar partnership with Wilbur-Ellis. The autonomous technology partnership will give Wilbur-Ellis customers beginning in 2023 an opportunity to access state-of-the-art aerial application services. Wilbur-Ellis is a marketer, distributor and manufacturer of agriculture products, specialty chemicals and animal feed.

"This is the first new aerial technology to make a material impact on American farms. We believe it can be profitably and rapidly deployed and are looking forward to working with Guardian Ag to roll out their technology to our customers and partners," Chief Executive Officer of Cavallo Ventures at Wilbur-Ellis, Mike Wilbur, said in a release.

Guardian Ag's fully electric, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft system delivers precision applications of crop protection products and benefits the environment by its lack of emissions. The autonomous aircraft can carry multi-hundred-pound payloads and will address a wide range of application spray volume and application needs for growers.

Guardian Agriculture's goal is to provide full-field aerial applications for a wide variety of farming operations. But the focus in 2023 will be vegetable crops in the Salinas Valley of California. Wilbur-Ellis has a substantial helicopter-borne application business there. It expects Guardian's SC1 (Specialty Crop One) will be especially valuable to customers with hard-to-reach areas, such as fields under power lines or fields near sensitive areas now treated with backpack sprayers or by tractor.

The 12-foot by 12-foot SC1 weighs in at 500 pounds and carries a 20-gallon payload for time-sensitive, precision applications. Lift and horizontal flight are by way of a fully electric powertrain and four, 6-foot propellers. A 16-foot boom applies spray in a 20-foot swath at a rate of 40 acres an hour with industry-standard nozzles, pressure, droplet sizes, and application volumes. Guardian has developed a trailer to service SC1 with both refills and battery recharging. Guardian says tank fills and supercharging are completed in one minute.

SC1 is fully programmable, requires no manual control and has a "return to home" function. With its data collection capabilities, SC1 application variables are collected in real-time, including wind speed, temperature and obstructions.

Guardian's SC1 eVCTOL offers the same precision spray technology available from a commercial helicopter, its developers say. SC1 uses microwave radar to follow the terrain and keep a constant separation between spray boom and crop, in roughly 6-inch increments. "Growers can expect a cost-effective application that will solve critical problems with coverage quality, sustainability, repeatability, and eliminate off-target spray and overspray," Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Guardian Ag, Adam Bercu, said in a release.

Wilbur-Ellis is Guardian's first commercial customer and has locked in early production runs of SC1. Wilbur-Ellis would not say how much it will charge for SC1 applications, except that it will be consistent with current aerial application rates and yet, priced to encourage customers to use the new technology.

The SC1 eVTOL is the only unmanned aerial application system available today, Guardian says. It has been designed, built and tested in the United States. Neither Guardian nor Wilbur-Ellis have discussed publicly a cost for each SC1 system or the terms of their partnership.

Guardian Agriculture develops autonomous eVTOL systems for sustainable farming on a commercial scale. For more information about Guardian Agriculture:

Wilbur-Ellis companies generate $3 billion in sales operating as international marketers, distributors and manufacturers of agricultural products, animal nutrients and specialty chemicals and ingredients. Wilbur-Ellis Agribusiness has over 160 retail locations throughout the U.S. For information:

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