Areoseeder, LLC — locally made in northeast Iowa

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The Aeroseeder, a fully-integrated drone seeding system, is easy to operate and has the ability to maneuver in areas where crop dusters and tractors cannot. From left are Tom Leitgen, product developer and CEO, Shawn Wirkler, Ron Schneider, Ian Burr and Shannon Wirkler. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

An unfavorable experience with an airplane seeding company was the inspiration for Tom Leitgen, designer and CEO of Aeroseeder, LLC located at 28879 232nd Street, Garnavillo, to create a prototype for a radio controlled aircraft seed spreader. 

"In 2013, my father, Loyal Leitgen, desired to have cover crops planted on his property," commented Leitgen. "The crop dusting company he contacted needed to have a larger acreage commitment in order to make a trip to Iowa be more cost efficient. By the time the company lined up enough farmers in the area that requested the company's services, it was late in the season and the seed application didn't take. In frustration my father said to me, 'You enjoy messing with radio controlled devices. Why don't you design something that can help out area farmers?'" 

Innovative design and USDA cost share program 

The Aeroseeder is a fully integrated drone seeding system. "We took a disc spreader and attached it to a drone with an aluminum frame support system, a seed bucket and two battery pack stations," he described. "The drone system is a cost effective, high performance piece of equipment, and pretty accurate – positioning within two feet."

The adaptation of cover crops is a key soil health practice and has expanded rapidly over the years. "The USDA maintains a cost share program with farmers, and requires they use a seed mix that includes nitrogen

scavenging plants," explained Leitgen. "Fields that have been seeded with a cover crop generally contain significantly less water run-off pollution and only minor amounts of nitrates. Cover crops also help maintain moisture during drought conditions. Many farmers have experienced soil health improvement to the point that they would continue the practice even if the USDA discontinued the cost share program."

Aeroseeder benefits

Ease of operation and the ability to maneuver in areas where crop dusters and tractors cannot – are one of the many benefits of the Aeroseeder. "If you can click and point on a map you can operate the Aeroseeder. It is fully automated and easy to operate," commented Leitgen. "It is able to maneuver in areas that are not accessible to airplanes and tractors, and does not compact the soil and can be used when the soil is too wet for tractor navigation."

Lack of availability, plot size limitations and local airport requirements for conventional crop dusters make the Aeroseeder even more advantageous to area farmers. "I am proud to say this product prototype was incubated in northeast Iowa with area farmers' best interest in mind," he said. "Most crop dusting/seeding companies are located in Texas, where farming practices are quite different."

The Aeroseeder has been field proven by successfully seeding over 1000 acres of cover crops in the last two years. 

Offering sales and service

Aeroseeder, LLC offers sales and service. "We sell Aeroseeders and also offer cover crop seeding services to farmers," he said. "Some proficient farmers may want to tackle the jobs themselves or even hire out their services to other farmers once they get the hang of operating the drone." 

Aeroseeder specifications

The Aeroseeder drone's flight weight is 55 lbs., with a 30 lb. payload and typical seeding flight speed of approximately 22 mph. It has GPS controlled positioning, adjustable seeding rate and sensor controlled altitude and terrain following, for uniform application. "The Aeroseeder has a robust design," he said with a smile. "You can knock it around a little – after all we are dealing with agriculture – and it can hold up to farming activities. When the Aeroseeder is empty it returns to where it lifted off. It can seed up to 240 acres in an eight-hour day."

A basic Aeroseeder set-up includes a drone with a seed hopper and spreader, ground control station, run planning tablet with software, two battery sets, a charger and training.

An expanded Aeroseeder set-up, for greatest productivity, includes the basic set-up plus three battery sets and an additional charger. Custom seeding services are also available. 

"The drone is easy to deploy," he stressed. "I set it up in the shop with seed samples, and then calibrate the seed rate by time. I run through it a couple of times once it's calibrated to get it right."

"It has multiple safety switches and autonomous operation during runs, allowing the operator to remain at a safe distance, and a manual override if needed," he listed. "Regulatory requirements include a drone operator pilots license and spotter. Drone pilot's insurance is recommended, but not required." 

Aeroseeder, LLC. currently employs six local workers and intends to hire more staff as sales expand. "We have to be able to move millions of tons of seed on millions of acres. We deserve, as farmers, this groundbreaking efficiency. This product was designed, built and supported right here in northeast Iowa. It is our industry. It is not something we should be importing. It is our business and we should be building it for ourselves," Leitgen concluded. 

For additional information call 563-252-3460 or e-mail tom.leitgen@aeroseeder.com or https://www.aeroseeder.com.

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