Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology flying above a farm near you

By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer

Farmers and ranchers often get a bad rap for being perceived as technophobes, hesitant to change and slow to embrace new ways. Anyone raised in an agricultural environment knows nothing could be further from the truth. No traditional sector has evolved more rapidly than agriculture over the past 30 years. Many farmers are on the cutting edge in terms the use of computers for market analysis, use of self-propelled GPS technology and use of digital programming for everything from sprayer nozzle technology to monitoring grain bin status.
Farmers may not go for every new gadget or doohickey on the market, but they certainly do not shy away from investing in technologies which will enhance the profitability and efficiency of their operations. It’s all about the bottom line.
Kevin Lauscher, industrial sales and training manager with Draganfly Innovations Inc., is hoping that same bottom line thinking will have more farmers considering investing in his company’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology. Lauscher says their quad copter UAV tech. has already seen extensive use since they came out with their first commercial/ industrial model the Draganflyer X-6 in 2007, but they haven’t as yet made a big splash in the agriculture sector.
“I would say it is a very small presence right now because this is a new and emergent technology,” acknowledges Lauscher. “The cost benefit and return on investment has to all be figured out in the agriculture sector to really pick up. The industry leaders in most sectors realize that benefits are there; it’s now all about convincing the end users, which could be service companies or the producers themselves, that it could be a very good return on investment.”
Draganfly Innovations is trying to get the ball rolling in a sense by introducing their first Draganflyer Pro-Ag package geared specifically toward agriculture. Going for about $20,000, the most useful feature of the Pro-Ag quad copter assembly is a multi-spectral camera that comes standard with it.
“The benefits are being able to identify at those early stages with crops, and potential problems with crops and health of crops,” explains Lauscher. “The aerial imaging allows you to very quickly to obtain imaging which can be analyzed to determine whether or not there are problems with crops, whether that be stress from drought, disease or insect infestation.
“And that’s just on the producers crop end of things. There is more to it than that as far as benefits to agriculture. You can use it in the cattle sector for instance to track how your pastures are doing and to see the health of pasture. It can help deal with calving issues as far as identifying where cattle are.”
Lauscher admits, though, this Pro-Ag package is his company’s first serious attempt to put together an application package for farmers, and there’s still a lot to learn.
“This is just our ideas at this time based on our knowledge of what these systems can do. When you start involving the end users and applying their knowledge to this technology great things can happen in advancement of the technology. It’s just a matter of getting it out there and having it used.”
Lauscher also admits its not simply a matter of a farmer pushing a button and having an automatic, instantaneous, multi-spectrum analysis of their fields ready for them on their desktop computer.
“Our systems simply take the pictures,” says Lauscher. “We don’t do the analytics. There are companies that do that. That combined with a horticulturist would be able to assist farmers or producers in their plans for production. But I would say, in terms of seeing a picture from above, it’s immediate. They don’t have to wait for satellite. And it’s probably more cost effective than using a full sized aircraft in most cases.”
Lauscher says there is a huge upside to investing more resources as a company to enhance their system’s applications for agriculture. The sky is, literally, the limit.
“It’s not a big percentage of our sales, but it’s just going to grow. The more we can get industry, service providers and producers together, the more we can advance to show that the benefits outweigh the costs of this technology for end users.”