Opinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They Lost

Precision Ag - Ben D. Johnson

Type: Article
Knowledge level: Introductory

Farm Table says:

Johnson cuts through the hype around the drone trend. Read the comments on the opinion piece – some are quite amusing!

This opinion piece is written by Ben D. Johnson who is the Precision Farming Coordinator at AG View FS in Illinois, United States.

He opens the piece by stating, “If you are late to the aerial imagery party and think that agricultural drones are the vehicle that are the be all, end all answer to your imagery needs, you are going to lose and lose big at that. “

Johnson refers to the hot drone trend in 2014 where dozens of companies entered the market and everyone was taking to the skies. Fast forward three years and Johnson states that despite all of the great technology, few companies still exists, and “there are some pretty big limitations in converting this great technology into a successful commercial agricultural drone program”.

Why is this?

So, the important information collected by aerial imagery is NDVI imagery. Johnson states the ultimate goal of NDVI is to “collect it at the correct time and turn it around into data that is actionable out in the field as quickly as possible”.

He states that there are severe limitations in achieving these goals, as a result of the following issues:

  • Licensing

There are laws in the US that require you to have a license if you are going to fly a drone for commercial use.

  • Logistics and Time

There are also only so many flyable days per year, particularly during the window where the data we collect can be turned around into actionable data. The window to collect drone data is limited, which becomes a real challenge in providing an affordable service to a grower.

  • Crashes

“Some models and/or operators tend to have crashes more than others, but if you’re reading this and you’ve flown a drone, you know darn well that you’ve crashed it at one point or another whether you will admit it or not.”

Johnson states that the novelty has worn off and we have to get serious about collecting and analysing NDVI imagery in a high volume, low cost way. He states that “collecting NDVI imagery with a drone is the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gun fight”.

Other vehicles Johnson explores to collect NDVI imagery include airplanes and satellites.

2017 - United States - Precision Ag - Ben D. Johnson
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