Tag Archives: Drones

Drones on Demand – The Future of UAV’s in Ag

IDrones on Demandn the field of agriculture drones are still sitting on the precision runway.  Many in the industry still look upon them as more of a hobby than the agronomic workhorse they have the potential to be.

There are several reasons for such perceptions.  First of all many of such said perceptions are true. Unfortunately, for all intents and purposes, the only fully legal way to fly a drone is as a hobby and not for commercial purposes.  Hopefully, this will change but for now we have to sit back and watch the Federal Aviation Administration and the slow-moving wheels of government come up with their new commercial rules for drones.

The other big problem in making drones practical for agriculture is that they are still too small and inefficient to make an impact on a large scale.  That’s understandable given the restrictive regulatory black cloud still hanging over the industry.

But it hasn’t been all dark skies.  The silver lining has been that early drone adopters were not going to be denied.  The technology is too intriguing and holds too much potential even at an individual grower level. So in order to put an “early bird” in the air so to speak – the drones had to be small in order to comply with the only FAA rules currently on the books – the ones for hobbyists.

These early adopters have blazed a trail for what is to come.  Kudos for them. They have stoked a fire that is likely to become a full-blown inferno once the FAA finally does settle on its official direction for drones.  How drones are ultimately used and leveraged within agriculture is likely to be dramatically different than the rogue do-it-yourself environment that we’ve seen so far.

When drones get the green light from the FAA, the industry is then going to treat it as a real business.  That means being able to fly more than just a few hundred or thousand acres a day or being able to stay in the air longer that 30 to 45 minutes.

NetJets

NetJets Fleet (Photo Source: corporatejetinvestor.com)

One of the most likely future models for the agricultural drone business is one that mimics a Warren Buffet owned company called NetJets.  It’s just not practical for even most high-powered businessmen to own a multi-million dollar corporate jet by themselves.  But it does make sense to own or even rent a piece of one – in essence timeshares for jets.  Such a scenario makes total sense for producers who want access to the benefits of a drone but don’t want the overhead and time commitment.

Such businesses may already be forming – laying the groundwork and getting ready to shoot out of the gate as soon as the FAA clears the runway for drones for commercial agriculture purposes.  One early-bird company touting a “drone as a service” model is a company called Measure based out of Washington, D.C.  It looks to leverage drone resources across the country and even the world. And from the looks of their website these aren’t the “baby” drones we’ve seen in the past.  Take a look and I think you’ll get the idea – www.measure32.com.

Another company with a fleet of larger drones is one based out of Newport, Virginia called Digital Harvest.  It has already been providing imagery services for larger commercial farms and specialty crop operations with drones that stay in the air hours at a time – not minutes.  Check their services out at http://www.digital-harvest.net.

The irony in this whole drone discussion is that the real value of a drone is not the drone itself. No doubt their coolness factor shot them into the limelight, but it is their potential to vastly improve upon the data and how it is delivered that has both producers and professionals intrigued.  Let’s face it, fuzzy red pictures from satellites were not cutting the mustard when it came to delivering relevant in-season crop imagery.  The number and quality of the types of on-board sensors a drone can carry – especially larger drones – is about to explode.

For these reasons it is drone service companies that will likely have more impact on the direction of drones in agriculture rather than any single drone manufacturer. Get ready to book your season tickets because these companies will be coming to play ball.  It should be fun to watch.

Drones and Precision Agriculture: The Sky is the Limit

Autosteer literally changed the face and direction of precision agriculture. That whiz-bang technology came about because once highly sophisticated military technology was commercialized. Just take a look at what has happened. Tractors and combines now roll off the production line complete with GPS from the factory just like it was as common of a technology as AM/FM radio.

Now another military technology is about to infiltrate precision agriculture. Last week the Wall Street Journal took a look at drone technology and how it could change the agricultural landscape when it comes to managing crops in the future. I had a chance to chime in on what it might mean for our industry and I believe we have only scratched the surface of what’s possible. Pardon the pun, but in this case I really do believe the sky is the limit! What do you think?

View the full Wall Street Journal article, “Drones Hit New Turf: U.S. Farmlands,” by clicking here.

Unmanned Drones: Big Brother or Agronomic Asset?

Get ready for a lot more UFO sightings.  The age of the unmanned drone is here and it’s not just for flyovers of hostile lands far, far away.

Real soon you might look up and see one buzzing over your Nebraska feedlot or your Iowa cornfield or Wisconsin dairy farm.

Seriously. Don’t be surprised if very soon they’re as common in your backyard as the mosquitoes during your picnic barbeque.  The hysteria has already started.  Just last week some people thought they saw a UFO along the Capitol Beltway in Washington.  Turns out it was not outer space aliens headed to the capitol but instead a military X-47B drone headed to a military base in Maryland for testing.

Why the sudden buzz – pardon the pun – about drones?  Well, in February, President Obama signed into law a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that requires the agency – on a fairly rapid schedule – to write rules opening U.S. airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles.

With that action the genie officially came out of the bottle and it has profound implications for many sectors of our society.  And if you think domestic use is going to be limited to patrolling borders and assisting law enforcement in big cities you are very wrong.

Just the other day I got an e-newsletter from Beef magazine telling the story about the aerial surveillance of Nebraska feedlots by the EPA.  The problem – the feedlot operators had no idea they were being monitored.  Now in this case the EPA was “monitoring” via traditional manned aircraft but can you imagine the EPA armed with a fleet of drones to monitor “agricultural” activity?

Such potential abuse is real and could undermine the real good this technology could actually do for precision agriculture and basic agronomy.  Crop scouting millions of acres in detail from above would be a game changer for agronomists and precision agriculture service providers.  No more waiting on hit and miss satellite imagery.  It could greatly reduce the overall cost of imagery and allow practical deployment of new sensors measuring nutrient levels and insect infestation.

Whether we like it or not drones are in our future.  The question yet to be answered for agriculture is whether the technology will be its friend or foe.  I sure hope it is embraced for good because it has the greatest in-season management potential of any agronomic tool I’ve seen in a long time.

For more information on this subject, please check out the following articles: