For several years now, advocates of the use of drones have cited precision agriculture—the management of crops that uses big data and GPS —as a method of boosting profits and crop yields while resolving food and water crises.
There are drones for sale today being used for agriculture in a wide variety of countries including Brazil, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Ag drones save farmers money by preventing the unnecessarily overuse of resources such as herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides and at the same time reduce the amount of runoff that flows into the streams and rivers that are close to their farms.
Unfortunately, all the hype that has been surrounding the use of drones has not had a substantial effect on the agriculture business in United States, at least, until recently.
American agriculture is incredibly resource intensive, particularly dependent on petroleum products that are processed into nitrogen rich fertilizer. Water use is also incredibly intensive.
According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), over 80% of water that is used in the US goes to agriculture, with around 90% in Western states such as Colorado.
Crop Monitoring Today
Currently, the main methods that American farmers are using to monitor their crops include, walking the field, manned planes and satellites.
These methods are usually time consuming, ineffective and can be incomplete, and when they collect data it normally takes a long time to analyze and process.
Consequently, it can be impossible or difficult for the farmers to react in a timely manner to a problem such as a disease outbreak before the costs to treat it have increased or it is too late.
Ag Drones Go Legit
In November 2015, the debut of the FAA’s (Federal Aviation Administration) Section 333 exemption that authorizes companies to commercially fly drones on a case by case basis is poised to change the use of ag drones, especially in the U.S.
This is the first time that agriculture drones will lawfully be able to collect widespread data across a whole growing season, enabling companies to test their technologies and business models together for the first-time—and ideally profit in the process.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the non-profit organization that represents users and producers of drones and other robotic equipment, has predicted that 80 percent of the drones’ commercial market will in the end be for agricultural uses.
Impact on The Ag Drone Industry
With the newly established FAA guidelines on the commercial use of drones, the drone industry expects that over 100,000 jobs will be created and nearly 500 million dollars in tax revenue will be generated collectively by 2025, most of it from agriculture.
The state of Iowa is the largest corn and second biggest grower of soybean, could see 1200 more jobs and an economic-impact topping $ 950 million in the next 10 years.
Prior to FAA drone permits for the commercial use of drones, drone operators such as Vine Rangers could not charge farming operations for the services they offered, which meant they were normally relegated to working with farms (usually small and independent farms) on exploratory pilot-programs.
The new FAA rules will now enable Vine Rangers and other firms that have been certified— most of which are in the start-up phase—to help both small and large farming operations with disease and water management, and charge for their services.
They will also be able to use drones to assist with better crop rotation and planting strategies, and offer a higher-degree of all around knowledge of how the crops are progressing on a day to day basis in the different parts of a particular field.
How Drones Make Agriculture More Efficient
Agribotix, a Colorado based start-up, is helping farmers conserve resources and water and save money by flying drones over their farms to measure crop growth, density and many other factors.
The drones enable the farmers to see the true health of their field in a color contrast that allows them to see how much sunlight the canopy of their crops is absorbing.
In another example of how drones are revolutionizing agriculture, information obtained from drones assisted one of Agribotix’s clients avoid sacrificing their entire season’s crop after a hailstorm.
Assuming that the entire field would have been written-off, the drones discovered that the hail had actually only damaged crops in a section of the field, and the rest of the crops could keep growing.
Although drones for sale, are a bit expensive, the advocates of the technology say that the data that drones gather — from identifying watering issues, insect problems, tracking down livestock that have wandered off or assessing crop yields— helps the farmers recover their investment, usually within one year.