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Drones In Agriculture: Considerations When Buying Technology & Training Human Capital

A Revolution in Farming is Only a Drone Call Away - The face of agriculture is changing, not with the turn of a tractor’s wheel or the swing of a scythe, but with the buzz of drone propellers slicing through the air. ~ Thomas Frey

Farmers and Drones

Farmers aren’t averse to technology or using systems to gain farm efficiencies; they are evaluators and investors in systems that help “bettering the farm”. Whether discussing family-run CSAs or mono-culture, whether one crop is grown and harvested or many, each business requires technology to avert labor costs while producing good quality products. Farmers are business people, grinding to stay ahead of the curve to meet regulations imposed and rising costs in a financially challenging environment.  

Farmers and Drones

Evaluating Analog To Digital 

When looking at equipment and technology to advance the farming operation, reviewing equipment needs, costs, and training are all required to run that system each year. Once they determine their strategic investment, in-house training begins with the vendor until the hand-off is completed. Imagine being responsible for all mechanical and technical solutions on-site while pumping food products to distributors; it can be daunting. Some have asked if drones and software solutions are necessary to advance the farming industry. Reviewing “pain points” in agricultural operations is key to understanding which “pain points” cost the organization the most. Sometimes, implementing labor can be the right choice. While building out systems for growth and scale, adding new energy-efficient pump systems, solar, or decision analytics might be the key to advancement. 

Farmers and Drones

Drones In Organics - Crop Management and Harvesting 

Organic farms sometimes require more labor and scrutiny during crop growth and maturity. Weather evaluation and sensor functionality are important when relying on real-time data to pivot during intense heat, rain, or snow. For example, vineyard managers work together in wine country during a hard freeze by lighting fires in smudge pots and burn barrels to avert the loss of root-stock and clones, which is handy as weather sensors gather important data to help vineyard owners save their crops. Another good example is citrus farming; using drones during winter weather empowers farmers to manage in real-time and act before the climate turns the crop into future compost. Drone systems play a role for organic farms with diverse crops, irrigation, and water pump station oversight to ensure water and nutrients are met across the entire crop. 

Using drones to manage drip irrigation repairs, moving equipment to and from storage, reducing labor and time during crucial moments.  Drone cameras record water filtration and maintenance data on the fly.  Groundwater pollution can be spotted and mitigated quicker than scheduled site evaluations in Mules and Pick-Ups. Soil samples can be taken quickly, and cover crops can be evaluated for health. 

Riparian landscape monitoring and predator evaluation are important jobs when running a farm. Environmental farm planning becomes more important because biodiversity increasingly aligns with water safety and the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). It is key to navigating stagnating water, log jams, and new insects. Drone practices offer the farmer a proactive approach to operations management. 

Farmers and Drones

Implementing Drone Technologies in Ranching & Livestock

Ranchers run thousands of acres of land, graze-ability, animal health management, mortality issues, illnesses, herd movement, and predators - like coyote and grizzly bears. But herding cattle with drones is a cultural change; most aren’t ready to run herds with drones. In the movie Unbranded, produced by Ben Thamer, Thomas Glover, Jonny Fitzsimmons, and Ben Masters, there was speculation about using helicopters and drones for herd management back in 2015. Feedback from Dr. Temple Grandin could be valuable too. However, linking an RFID monitor to a drone with a software solution like CattleMax could be cost-saving and offer more effective animal health record-keeping. 

Farmers and Drones

Drone Safety On Farms

is a FSMA requirement, keeping pathogens and foreign objects away from food and the food processing systems. Bio-security begins with evaluating neighboring farms and food processing plant boundaries. Limiting trespassing and predator entry on or near food products can be managed by drone technology and security staff members. Drones help with fence breaches, or anyone trying to come onto the property without the proper documentation.  

Farmers and Drones

When evaluating drone technology solutions, long before buying equipment - it is important to evaluate who will be responsible on the farm or plant for the drone and its management. It is a multifaceted technology used to create geo-spatial analysis and record-keeping data in a database. Is it important to decide who will oversee important aircraft and technology systems for the farm? Who makes the decision to identify a drone vendor. Like crop dusters and satellite images of the past, drones are changing how we capture landscapes and geology. Land grant colleges are launching Extension programs, certifications, and training for the future agricultural technologists.  

Farmers and Drones

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