Drones Get ROI Analysis


Drones can be flown strictly for fun, or they can be deployed to perform a variety of tasks on the farm. But what’s their actual monetary value on a given operation?

That’s what the American Farm Bureau Federation wanted to know. So the group partnered with Measure to study and quantify the benefits drones can bring to precision agriculture. The study looked into the economic benefits of “drone as a service” (in other words, drone services provided via cooperatives or other retailers) for three specific applications – field crop scouting, 3D terrain mapping and crop insurance.

AFBF and Measure saw a positive return on investment (ROI) for all three crops in the study. The study showed the following per-acre dollar value of deploying drones on the farm:

  • $12.00 for corn
  • $2.60 for soybeans
  • $2.30 for wheat

“While lots of drone hardware has been sold to farmers, no tool existed [until now] to help growers actually quantify whether the benefits exceed their costs, especially when farmers want to outsource these types of services,” says Justin Oberman, president of Measure.

Measure is building an ROI Calculator tool that will be available for use later this year, Oberman says. The tool will give farmers a unique ROI number for each farm based on that farm’s individual characteristics.

“This tool will help growers understand how drone technology can improve their performance for the benefit of consumers in the U.S. and around the world.”

Multiple sponsors of the study included AFBF, GeoSilos, Lockheed Martin, PepsiCo, AGCO, Beck’s Hybrids, Conservis, GROWMARK, PrecisionHawk, WinField and several others.

Lia Reich, director of marketing communications for PrecisionHawk, says it’s becoming increasingly obvious that drone hardware and software have to work together, or ROI tends to get thrown out the window.

“UAVs are amazing tools that will play a huge role in agriculture, but what has the most potential is creating actionable items from the data you collect,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot of people who spend a lot of money on the platform but don’t know what to do with the data they get.”

To that end, PrecisionHawk launched a brand-agnostic algorithm marketplace earlier this year where growers can upload their data and purchase various software analysis tools à la carte. Examples include a field uniformity tool, a scouting report generator and many others. To-date, more than 50 third-party partners (mostly universities) have contributed their own algorithms to the marketplace.

“We set out to build an open IP platform from the beginning,” says Bob Young, PrecisionHawk chairman. “In the same way that desktop computers needed an abundance of easy to use software to change the world, similarly, drones need a platform where software developers can build the tools that are necessary to scale.”

For all of AgWeb’s industry-leading coverage on drone technology, visit www.FarmWithDrones.com

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