(Source: Star Tribune)
Mike Geske wants a drone.
Watching a flying demonstration on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Missouri farmer envisions using an unmanned aerial vehicle to monitor the irrigation pipes on his farm — a job he now pays three men to do.
“The savings on labor and fuel would just be phenomenal,” Geske says, watching as a small white drone hovers over a nearby corn field and transmits detailed pictures of the growing stalks to an iPad.
Nearby, farmer Chip Bowling tries his hand at flying one of the drones. Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association, says he would like to buy one for his Maryland farm to help him scout out which individual fields need extra spraying.
Another farmer, Bobby Hutchison, says he is hoping the man he hires weekly to walk his fields and observe his crops gets a drone, to make the process more efficient and accurate.
“I see it very similar to how I saw the computer when it first started,” says Hutchison, 64. “It was a no-brainer.”
Farmers are eager for the technology.
The small, relatively inexpensive vehicles could replace humans in a variety of ways around large farms: transmitting detailed information about crops to combines and sprayers, directing them very precisely to problem spots and cutting down on the amount of water and chemicals that a farmer needs to use in those areas.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says agriculture could account for 80 percent of all commercial drone use.
Agricultural use of drones is about to take off after being grounded for years by the lack of federal guidelines. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved more than 50 exemptions for farm-related operations since January.
Companies with those exemptions say business has grown, helped by quick advances in the technology.
Bret Chilcott of Kansas-based AgEagle, which sells unmanned aerial vehicles and the software to help operate them, says his company took its first orders last year. Now it has a backlog of several hundred orders. He says the technology has transformed the market during that short period.
“Last year users had to land their aircraft and then take the data to the computer,” he says. “Now the data appears on your iPad or hand-held device a few minutes after flight.”
That data could be pictures, 3-D images of plants, thermal readings of crops or animals or other observations that a drone could make while in the air. Information that in the past took days to collect — or could not have been collected at all — can be gathered now in minutes or hours and, in some cases, integrated with separate data collected from other high-tech farm machinery.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com