How Will Drones Impact the Future of Precision Agriculture?

Image courtesy of Chad Colby

Everywhere you look, predictions around how much potential drones possess in terms of revenue opportunities continue to rise. Whether the headlines are talking about UAVs that will instantly deliver packages to your door or drones that will distribute vital medicine and help save lives, there’s no question that the possibilities around their applications are endless. This makes the need to integrate them into commercial workflows that much more vital.

If we’re talking about specific industry predictions though, many are especially bullish around the revenue impact UAVs can have in precision agriculture, which some place in the billons. There are plenty of experts that question whether or not such estimates are missing the mark, but it’s proof that farmers and growers have something to be excited about both in terms of how this technology will impact their capabilities and how it will effect their bottom line.

As ever though, it’s the specific details and questions that many people are trying to sort through. What kind of drone should a farmer invest in? How has and will regulation impact what a grower can do on their own farm? What sorts of information do farmers have access to that was unavailable with other tools or techniques? How will drones impact the future of the industry?

Answering these questions is something farmers can do by gathering insights from various authorities and realizing what kind of legal and logistical challenges are on the horizon.

 

Meet the Experts

We recently published a free report that tackles many of the pertinent questions for farmers, and we were lucky to be able to talk with Chad Colby to capture his insights in it. Featured as a keynote speaker at the Australian Summer Grains Conference as well an Advisory Board member of the Commercial UAV Expo, Chad is one of the most knowledgeable specialists in the industry, and his advice can be practical, as it was when he laid out his 7 tips for flying an unmanned aerial system, or incredibly specific, as it was in his “2016 Starting Lineup” for UAVs in precision agriculture. His expertise and enthusiasm is truly unmatched.

Robert Blair is another farmer who’s been an advocate of UAV technology for a long time now, and he’s helped showcase how drones are set to enable an evolution in agriculture. He was one of the first farmers to seriously look into the technology, and he’s seen and experienced the challenges associated with implementing them into a process, as well as the sort of benefits they can enable. Robert is involved in a legacy of learning, and his insights and experiences are critical for farmers working through logistical and philosophical concerns when around their usage of UAVs.

Nolan Berg is a farming expert who was quoted in our free report, and you can see from his writings on the Peterson Farms Seed blog that working to help farmers understand how this technology can impact their work is a priority for him. He’s written about the “must-knows” before your first flight, detailed the best approach on integrating UAV technology with yield maps and explored what are UAVs looking at. He’s able to write in a voice that farmers will final familiar, and deliver insights that can make a difference.

These authorities are just a few of the ones who are helping define what the future of UAVs look like in farming. People like Chad, Robert and Nolan can help farmers figure out what they can and should do in terms utilizing a drone in their workflow.

 

Logistics and Limitations

We can’t avoid discussing the FAA if we’re talking about the future of UAVs in this industry, as regulation is something at the top of mind for farmers. It’s been a topic of conversation for a long while now, and you can even look back to major milestones that have already been delivered from the FAA. 2016 is set to be a year that redefines how the FAA interprets flying a drone for commercial purposes, and many farmers will see a plethora of opportunity opened up once those changes are made.

Does that mean farmers should wait until regulation is more defined before trying to sort out how this technology can help them? That’s certainly one approach, and the difficulties around regulation coupled with the fact that many of the things drones can do on a farm are not new developments has caused many to take pause. After all, what’s the impetus for being able to view fields from above via a drone when much of that info is available from manned aircraft? Drones can also carry infrared and thermal sensors, but this kind of info has been available to farmers for many years now.

The differences UAVs can make in these regards come down to timing and costs, and it’s the main reason farmers are getting involved with the technology now instead of waiting. Using drones to gather info from the sky can be a cheaper alternative when compared to manned aircraft services, and the timeline around infrared and thermal scans has previously been anywhere from 10 days to a month. How much is going to change on a farm from one month to the next? With drones, this info can be viewed almost instantaneously. Drones can be used to spot something specific as a wavelength associated with a crop disease, which allows the grower to react to the issue and reduce crop damage.

These are important details to think about considering that farmers have the challenge and responsibility of feeding nine and half billion people by the year 2050. They need to be able to take advantage of the tools that are going to be able to make a difference in their capabilities while positively impacting their bottom line.

UAVs in precision agriculture free repot

The Way Forward

Regardless of who’s giving the insight or what they’re focused on, the future of UAVs in precision agriculture comes down to farmers being ready and willing to try out the technology for themselves. Regulation will continue to evolve and new advancements will keep changing the paradigm around what drones can do, but being able to sort through those issues in the short term will provide long term benefits. Getting involved now helps farmers acquire an understanding around the potential drones posses and also allows them to guide and determine their own way forward.

UAVs can and are changing the agriculture industry, and this fact means farmers need to get involved. They need to ask questions. They need to talk to as many people as they can. Doing so will help define that future for individuals, but also help establish how the entire industry will use UAVs.

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About the Author

Jeremiah Karpowicz always envisioned a career as a screenwriter, but found the autonomy and freedom he was looking for in the digital space. He has created articles, videos, newsletters, ebooks and plenty more for various communities as a contributor and editor. He has also worked as the Executive Editor for ProVideo Coalition where he was first introduced to UAV technology. You can get in touch with him on Twitter: @jeremiahkarp

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