Can Drones Really Be Used to Map or Spray Weeds?

The days of scouting your fields on foot or filling a backpack sprayer and hiking down into steep, snake-infested canyons in triple-digit temperatures to control unwanted vegetation may be a thing of the past. Traditionally, situations such as these have involved countless hours of scouting or aerial applications using a helicopter or airplane. Unfortunately, some terrain is not suitable for such large craft. Enter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) more commonly known as “drones.”

Benefits of drone survey and treatment include decreased crew/human exposure to environmental hazards, decreased disturbance to critical /sensitive habitats, and decreased amount of product required to treat unwanted vegetation and exposure to the product. Drones can also provide access to areas not safely accessible by equipment on foot thereby limiting the amount of manpower and time required to gain control in hard-to-reach areas. Lastly, drones can generate GPS survey maps or maps of the area and product being applied as they fly across the site.

Not just anyone can use a drone equipped with the ability to dispense pesticides. All drone applicators and application equipment in Washington must be licensed with the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Applicators must have the required endorsements and have an FAA certificate part 137, which ultimately allows the drone to release “pesticides” from the air. When applying the product, the drone operator must have a spotter, a flight plan filed with local or nearby airstrips, and be aware of flight paths and any possible restrictions. The last thing a person wants to do with a $15,000+ drone is crash it into something.

Washington State has several drone companies such as AgDrone Data Services, Central Washington Land and Restoration Services, or Lone Oak Air, LLC that can take the guesswork out of such jobs. For a comprehensive list of U.S. drone manufacturers, visit

To learn more about registering a commercial drone, visit

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For questions or comments, contact Dale Whaley via email at or phone at 509-745-8531.