6 Ways Farmers Use Drones To Save Time, Increase Profit

11:42AM Jan 16, 2020
Eyes in the sky guide boots and decisions on the ground.
( Farm Journal )

Drones—are they just high-dollar toys, or can you truly use them to save money, time and, ultimately, increase profits? It all boils down to your goals—or lack thereof—on whether or not they’ll make or save you money.

“It’s really good money spent to get over a lot of acres in just a little while,” says Alston Shipley, who works on a dairy farm in Westminster, Md., and has experience using drones in crop scouting.

Drones can capture pictures, video and even NDVI, thermal and many other kinds of enhanced images, according to Ohio State University. Most are easy-to-use and can be quickly picked up by people without flight or drone experience.

Here’s a few tips from farmers and crop scouts on ways drones can benefit your operation:

  1. After wind or weather events, record exact amounts of damage. Use this to inform insurance adjusters where damage was and prove it.

  2. Check for planter failure. Planting is one of the busiest times of the year. You can’t physically get across every field quickly and still plant; use drones to pinpoint problem areas earlier.

  3. Make field-drainage improvements. After rain events, use thermal cameras to see where water is pooling—even in dense canopy. This could help you place tile in the right spot.

  4. Save time scouting. While ATVs do provide some efficiency in scouting, they can’t get into fields when the crop is tall. Drones can help you get over a large number of acres quickly and throughout the season. In addition, drones can “see” more than scouts walking fields alone can.

  5. Ensure you’re getting your money’s worth from service providers. Use drones to double check hired sprayers, for example. Missed or spotty herbicide applications could lead to weed outbreaks that limit yield. In addition, if there was an issue with a fertilizer application, you’ll recognize it sooner and be able to make corrections.

  6. Herd cattle. While it’s not as common, farmers with livestock might be able to use drones to herd cattle.

“For us, it increased efficiency and time management,” Shipley says. “When farmers have limited windows to plant and replant, gaining just one day of work because of efficiency means it’s worthwhile.”


Stay Compliant With FAA Regulations

Make sure you are compliant with drone usage laws, which are governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), so you avoid negative, legal consequences.

First and foremost, all, yes all, drones must be registered with FAA. It doesn’t matter if it’s a ‘fun’ drone to take pictures of flowers or one you use for crop scouting, it must be registered, which you can do online.

If you have a drone for personal use, that’s pretty much all you need to do, though FAA does suggest going through additional training. However, anyone using drones in a way that makes them money, like having people pay you to scout fields, must have an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) license.

The test to get the license costs $150 and must be renewed every couple of years for $75. It consists of 120 questions on the first test, and 60 on the renewals.

What you need to know before flying a drone, according to Ohio State University:

  • Max altitude for flight 400 feet

  • Drone must always be in sight of the pilot

  • Fly within owner’s manual specs

  • Do not modify the drone to carry additional items

  • Avoid flying over crowds or populated areas

  • Consider weather conditions and obstructions for flight safety

  • Flights are legal 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after twilight

Here are a few more resources for anyone considering drones:

Drone Paid For Itself "10 To 20 Times Over"

Startup Aims To Lead Drone-based Crop Applications