Pesticides Section manager takes lead in educating and regulating drones in pesticide applications

by | Apr 8, 2024

As drones continue to become more commonplace, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has prepared to be sure anyone who uses drones for pesticide applications is properly licensed. The Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division now has a document with step-by-step information on how applicators can become properly licensed to use drones.

The document comes in large part thanks to Dwight Seal in the Pesticides Section of the division.

“I knew this was coming,” Seal said about the increase in interest in the topic in recent year. “You know, when you work in this business long enough you know where the questions are going to come from, and I said, well we need it in writing. So people will have it so that we can all sing off the same sheet, so to speak, and everyone knows these are the rules.”

Seal is the division’s Western District Pesticide Manager, but his interest and involvement in how drones and pesticides intersect has spread across the state and beyond. He’s served as the chair of the Emerging Technology Working Group within the national American Association of Pesticide Control Officials (AAPCO). Recently he spoke at a national spray drone user’s conference in Alabama. His talk was titled “A Regulator’s Perspective: UAVs used for Pesticide Applications.”

UAV is the more common industry term used instead of “drone.” It stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.

“They’re going to be regulated by FAA and the State Department of Agriculture,” Seal said. “So they have to have their pesticide license and the license certificates for FAA. I wanted to cover what’s sort of a moving target with FAA because of waivers and exemptions that they have put in place. We keep up with what FAA is doing, so I just gave the perspective from the department of ag and how we look at what FAA does and how we communicate that to people in our state.”
Seal explained that in North Carolina anyone using drone for pesticide applications needs to meet the same pesticide license requirements as someone operating a manned aircraft. That license for manned aerial application involves at least three exams – the core exam, the aerial methods exam and a specialty exam based on the location of application. There are aircraft inspections also, and the FAA requires two certificates – Part 107 and Part 137.

The guide sheet Seal created helps cover the checklist of requirements. For anyone interested in that document or with general interest in applying pesticides with a UAV/drone, the Pesticides Section has information on how to be properly licensed. A good place to start and to find contact info is this page of the division’s website: Structural Pest Control and Pesticides – Pesticide Licensing and Certification

Seal said he was happy to have been able to get the document together just and interest and questions began to grow.

There are currently about ten applicators specifically licensed in North Carolina specifically for UAV/drone use, Seal said. Interest continues to grow. He has noticed traditional aerial applicators starting to subcontract with drone operators in some areas such as fields with hazards such as powerline where it’s difficult to get an airplane safely.

“I get calls daily about it, and I would say we’re probably picking up maybe ten more coming this year,” Seal said. So it’s an expanding market, but it’s still a niche market.”