By Jody A. Martin, President/CEO of Palmetto Consulting Solutions, LLC
Great potential for Unmanned Aircraft Systems “UAS” / Drones in the business of agriculture? UAS / Drones are currently being used in many ways around the world in Agriculture and in many other industries. In the United States, however, the FAA is in the process of determining how to best regulate the use of these aircraft. These aircraft are and can be used safely and effectively in agriculture both now and in the future. However, please note that the Federal Aviation Administration “FAA” has discouraged the commercial use of UAS/Drones until they can determine the best way to regulate the use of these aircraft.
UAS Predicted Economic Impact
According to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States report shows the economic benefit of UAS integration in the first three years of integration — more than 70,000 jobs will be created with an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion in the United States. It is projected this will grow through 2025 and create more than 100,000 jobs with an economic impact of $82 billion. It is also projected that the precision agricultural industry will represent 80 percent of this commercial market. These numbers are staggering and are simply projections. The agricultural industry has tremendous opportunities to utilize the vision and technology available with the UAS for two main reasons. First agriculture is rural and on private land. Secondly, commercial agriculture already has the tools on the ground to match up with the technology provided by the UAS in the air. There are two types of UAS, fixed wing units and multi-rotor copters. The multi-rotor copters are normally less expensive and often feature sports video cameras like a GoPro and usually have a very limited flying time. These are great at getting a better view of problem areas on the farm. The fixed wing units are often more expensive and are better at imaging large areas to produce a large variety of imagery data.
Palmetto Consulting Solutions “PCS AgriBiz” has connections with a company that represents some of the best technology for agriculture in the UAS industry. These fixed winged units made of foam and weighs only 1.5 pounds. The lightweight aircraft has one integrated system that combines mission planning, ground control station software and image processing software. They can image hundreds of acres in a single flight. The images are taken with a variety of cameras depending on desired results as listed:
- Near Infrared (NIR) Band
- Red Edge (RE) Band
- Red Green Blue (RGB) Band
- MultiSpec Camera
- Thermal Camera
Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is used in many of these as a simple graphical indicator that can help analyze remote sensing measurements. The images are then stitched together with processing software to create a large mosaic image of the fields/forest. The key is a unit that offers a complete solution that is versatile, reliable, easy to use and links to the precision agriculture tools on the farm.
Why are UAS such a good match for Precision Agriculture? Precision agriculture on the farm is alive and well with tools such as auto steer tractors, auto steer sprayers, variable rate fertility, variable rate planting, variable rate spraying, variable rate irrigation and much more. Now the UAS can allow growers to monitor crops, forestry and livestock from the sky and connect with the technology on the ground. What will this mean in the future? Let me give one example. Think about the opportunity to fly a corn field with a thermal camera on a drone to collect moisture data on the crop stitches the data together and feeding it into a variable rate center pivot on the ground. This will allow the grower to customize water application based on the specific crop needs while helping to save money, conserve water and produce a more uniform crop with the highest economical yield. This is one of many things to come with the use of UAS in combination with the existing precision agricultural tools on the ground at farms around the United States. The success is in getting good images and having the best software to stitch it all together and put it in a usable form for on farm use. The key benefits are to produce more for less while being more efficient and save on energy and resources.
The maps, data and/or video collected by Agricultural UAS can be used in many ways as listed below: Crop Health Imaging, Increase Crop Yields, Weed Mapping, Integrated GIS Mapping, Crop Evaluation, Frost Damage, ID Moisture Needs, Crop Maturity, Crop Losses, Monitor Wildlife, Surveying Fields, Population Counts, ID Potential Diseases, ID Pest Problems, Improve Crop Scouting, Evaluate Crop Health, Irrigation Monitoring, Monitor Rainfall, Monitor Soybean Rust, Nitrogen Problems, Fertilizer Problems, Map Residue, Irrigation/Drainage Planning, and much more!
What are the FAA's challenges and concerns? The FAA has many understandable concerns over the use of UAS. I understand the risk and potential problems however I see the immediate needs to move forward to help the business of agriculture. We should encourage FAA to continue to work with local authorities, Ag Agencies, Ag Organizations and growers to find good workable regulations that will work to improve efficiency and productivity on the farms.
There are many options for FAA to consider and I am sure they will come to some decisions in the near future. A few simple suggestions from a common sense view point, the problem in not the tools it is the misuse of the UAS by crazy folks. This is no different that the misuse of alcohol, automobile, guns, social media, etc. I would suggest requiring user to get a simple license and registration administered by the states. This could involve taking a simple but informative training similar to driving license and/or concealed weapons permit. The purpose is to help user understand the proper use and make sure they can control their vehicle. It will also gives state authorities an opportunity to track ownership of these units for safely and responsibility purposes.
What does all this mean to the economic development industry? At Palmetto Consulting Solutions “PCS AgriBiz” we focus on opportunities to grow the business of agriculture. The foundation of many rural communities around the country is production agricultural. The objective is to bring food processing, packaging, crushing, bio-energy and other similar faculties that will have a need for local crops and/or agricultural based products that can be produced by local farmers. These projects can generate very strong farm gate revenue that remains in that local community. We have seen $10 million processing facility projects that may supply only 40-50 jobs on site help generate $20 – $30 million in annual farm gate revenues (payments directly to the growers for production of agricultural based commodity) that stay in the local rural economy. Please make notes that agricultural production is a renewal resource that is produced every year. These agribusiness projects offer great economic impact to rural America by helping to stabilize the family farms and their entire communities. This is the reason PSC AgriBiz is focus on Agri-Business Economic Development!
Innovation is the key to make our farms more efficient. Unmanned Aircraft Systems “UAS” better known as Drones have an opportunity to play a vital role in production agriculture. Monitoring crops from the sky and connecting with precision agricultural on the ground could be the next framing revolution. We are connecting with the top companies in the market for Agricultural Drones that will provide the best possible data to be used on the farm and are excited about being a part of this growing industry.