ABC drones

The Hylio 122 spraying a corn field. ABC Drones allow growers to take field product applications to a precise and more economical level.

In 2020, four Minnesota farmers founded ABC Drones LLC, a company designed to assist producers in taking the next step in agriculture technology.

The seeds were planted courtesy of the Covid pandemic.

Sarah Hart was a senior at Ashland University and had just arrived in Missouri for the first round of the 2020 NCAA Division II Championship for women’s basketball. Her team had an undefeated regular season and as the second ranked team, the upcoming days promised to be unforgettable. But it was Friday, March 13, 2020. As shutdowns began, the games were canceled and Sarah’s basketball career abruptly ended.

Two days later, Sarah headed back to her family farm outside of Rochester, Minn. to finish classes online. Her family farms corn and soy beans, as well as some sweet corn for a local canning company.

“My dad had some old drones and asked me to try to figure them out,” Sarah recalled. The software was out of date, but Sarah’s interest was piqued. She purchased a new drone and was able to learn more about the device. When unfavorable weather paid a visit to the farm, Sarah put the drone to work. “A bad windstorm laid crop down and I was able to do some mapping with the drone,” Sarah said. “It stitched together the pictures I took.” The data was turned in to the insurance company, and the end result was money back for the farm.  “It got the wheels turning,” she remarked.

Two seed dealers in the Rochester area recommended checking out Beck’s Hybrids’ headquarters to see the drones they work with. Sarah and her dad made the trip to Indiana and were able to learn more about the Hylio drones firsthand from the brand’s CEO and president. “We were able to talk to them about their business, goals, and what they want to do in the future. We were really impressed with them!”

After that visit, ABC Drones LLC was founded by Sarah and her two sisters, Rachel Encinias and Rebekah Hart, and her brother-in-law, Joseph Encinias. ABC stands for Agriculture, Business, and Community. Each of the co-owners have an area of expertise they bring to the company. “Rebekah is very good with graphic design and Rachel is great with administration,” Sarah commented. Joe takes care of all things mechanical. “He’s great with fixing and maintenance.” Sarah specializes in sales. She is also a drone pilot, along with Rachel and Joe.

ABC Drones offers a variety of services. They work exclusively with Hylio drones and sell models designed for spray and seeding, as well as models designed for crop scouting and mapping. Sarah stated the company is certified to train a pilot how to operate, maintain, and update their drone throughout the lifespan of the operation. They also provide advanced maintenance and repair. “We hope to be a hub for research and a resource for education. We’re looking at how can we keep customers ahead of the game,” she said.

Flying drones for agricultural purposes requires licenses and certifications which need to be maintained.  An Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 license, an FAA Part 137 license, and a pesticide applicator license are requirements, as well as a certificate for a health class II medical card. “FAA will come down and watch you fly before getting the certificate for the 137,” Sarah stated. With additional licensure, multiple drones can be flown at once.

Specifics vary depending on model, but Sarah noted the drones have about a 30-foot swath and work at approximately 10-12 miles per hour. “The drone itself can fly into 25 mile per hour winds. However, in order to spray, the winds cannot exceed 10 miles per hour. Different products have different label readings for mph winds, but that is usually the standard speed.”

Currently, models run 7-8 minutes at a time before pausing for a tank refill and battery change. Amid dealing with some windy conditions, Sarah has sprayed about 170 acres in a day at a two-gallons-per-acre rate with Hylio’s 4.2 gallon AG-116 model. ABC Drones also sells an 8 gallon model, and Sarah added Hylio recently came out with a 16 gallon drone. “The industry is moving fast and the drones are getting bigger and more efficient. It’s exciting!” Sarah remarked.

Sarah mentioned that drone operators can save battery power by not needing to turn around on the field. After going down a stretch, they are able to slide over and then continue the work on the way back. The drones also have obstacle avoidance features.

“The FAA law for the drones is that it needs a remote controller. However, the Hylio drones can be flown on a laptop without having to use the controller!” Sarah remarked. With the laptop, “you can control it with the keyboard or click on the screen.” She added it’s a requirement that the remote controller be with the operator during use.

Because ABC Drones’ owners use the models they sell on their own fields, they’ve witnessed the benefits first-hand. The family experimented and compared results using a drone, a helicopter, and a ground rig, and were pleased with the drone’s results. “For us, it’s been really helpful,” Sarah commented. “For spraying, the drone is 10 feet above the canopy. It pushes the product more into the crop.” Sarah noted with helicopter use, she and her sister have seen more blanketing. “The drone does a better job with application,” Sarah remarked, also acknowledging the benefit of a slower spray.

Sarah pointed out the many options drones have afforded her family. “My dad is big on testing. If he wants the full field sprayed or just half a field, we can do that. We do seeding; you can do a cover crop. We like the flexibility with it.” Sarah emphasized the freedom the producer gains. “It puts you in control. You can decide when to spray, how to spray, and however many times.” Instead of having to work with someone else’s schedule, a farmer can take advantage of optimum weather conditions as they are presented.

Sarah has also seen how drones have benefitted their customers. “We had a couple dairy farms having a hard time getting a helicopter in,” Sarah recalled. ABC Drones was able to work with them. The company also has some customers using drones on pasture, and one reported back it was the best kill he’s ever gotten.

ABC Drones had the opportunity to provide Syngenta with research. “We did some fungicide spraying for their seed plots. We also did a few different products so they could have side by side comparisons, too. It was a great experience and we enjoyed working with them!” Sarah commented.

Sarah believes drones can be used for any size of farm. There are different models to choose from with varying prices. She mentioned if a farmer has a smaller number of acres, they have the opportunity to start their own side business and spray for others. While there are many factors involved, Sarah anticipated a buyer could see a return on investment in two years or less.

If interested in working with ABC Drones, the first step is to contact them by phone, (507) 701-1483, or email, They will send out a questionnaire to gather information such as the number of acres, types of field obstacles, and the services/product requested.

Sarah stated drone operators currently have the same requirements as helicopter operators. As a result, the process can be lengthy. She estimated the time from start to finish of the licensure and certification process may be about six months. “For us, it took a little over a year and a half. Now that a lot more people are doing it, the process is a lot faster. We really encourage people, if this is something they’re interested in, to reach out to get started.” If there is a need for spraying and/or seeding while the process is in motion, ABC Drones is willing to provide a quote.

This season is the perfect time to get in touch with ABC Drones. Sarah’s recommended “any time after harvest — these December, January, February months when farmers are planning for the next year.”

ABC Drones can provide demonstrations, and video footage of their drones in action can be viewed on their website, They will be at the Iowa Ag Expo in Des Moines from Jan. 31 through Feb. 2.   

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