Real-World UAV Experience In Agriculture

Todd Golly and UAVs
Minnesota grower Todd Golly shows off his senseFly and Farm Intelligence unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Judging by the buzz at recent farm shows and the flurry of activity at the Federal Aviation Administration, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are taking agriculture by storm. CropLife magazine talked with one savvy grower who’s really done his homework on this technology. Here, Todd Golly, owner of Golly Farms, Winnebago, MN, shares his expertise on this valuable new agronomic tool.

How did you get interested in UAVs?

Golly: Two years ago a company called Farm Intelligence, based in Mankato, MN, approached me and several other farmers in the peer group we belong to. They wanted to use our group to test their UAVs and image analysis ideas. They started flying our fields, and I saw the potential.

What were they showing you? What did you do with the information they gave you?

Golly: At first it was just photos showing the UAVs and their abilities. As we progressed, they could show us nitrogen problems, fertilizer problems and moisture issues in fields as well as how the vehicle was able to map residue, tile lines and population counts. We have about 6,000 acres of corn and soybeans. My dad’s a pilot, so we’ve always been able to view the crops from above and saw the value of it. But it’s not cost effective any more with fuel prices and insurance on a plane. The UAV gets the same results.

What costs were involved?

Golly: None to start out with Farm Intelligence’s testing. Last summer I purchased my own drone, a senseFly eBee, for about $23,000.

That sounds like an expensive unit — why did you choose it? How did you find it?

Golly: I pretty much did research on the Internet. It seems like there are hundreds of drones out there made by individuals or hobbyists. This was the most finished product I saw. It’s made by a fairly large company based in Switzerland — senseFly — that’s been in business for a while. The best feature is it’s very easy to use. When I got the eBee, I pulled it out of the box, didn’t even read the instructions and I had it flying within about 20 minutes.

There are a lot of $5,000 UAVs available, but they don’t fly themselves. They’re kind of fancy remote-controlled planes, so I don’t know why they call them drones. With the eBee, you program and upload a flight plan. To launch it, you just throw it up by hand (don’t need a catapult). It flies the mission, taking the photos all by itself — you don’t have to push a button like with some of the cheaper UAVs where you have to guess where to take a photo. The eBee figures out the wind, what direction to land in, and it will land within two feet of where you want it to. I can launch it, go in my shop, come out an hour later, and it’s just sitting where I want it to be.

How has the software worked for you?

Golly: The software is very easy to use. It automatically pulls in Google Maps and uses GPS to find your field.

What other issues have you dealt with?

Golly: The weather is definitely a challenge, especially in Minnesota. The eBee can fly in winds up to 15 to 20 mph. You really want that lower, just because it can fly doesn’t mean you’re going to get good pictures.

What will you be doing this season?

Golly: In our area we’re going to use the UAV a lot for drainage tile. In addition, by mapping residues we could variable-rate nitrogen in the near future. The eBee can also actually do elevation maps, surveying within 5 centimeters. We can probably use that information to create management zones, correlating yields and topography. We’ve also decided to start our own drone business called Leading Edge Technologies. Two of the original test farms have partnered together, and we’ve hired another person with GIS background. We’re now a distributor for the senseFly and Farm Intelligence products.

What are you finding out about how dealers are using UAVs?

Golly: A lot of the clients that we have come in, like the co-ops, may want to do a couple things. One is using the UAV to just enhance their service products. It can be a tool in an agronomist’s bag to show farmers how their hybrids are doing or what their weeds are doing. Instead of a scout going out to one or two spots in a field, the farmer will get a whole field scouted quickly. If some of our customers may want to sell the UAVs, we can make them a subdealer. They can sell them to farmers to fly themselves.

What advice would you have for farmers and dealers?

Golly: This is one of those technologies, like autosteer, that everybody is going to do eventually. It’s going to take some time to get everything ironed out, but there’s an advantage in getting in it soon to learn and get ahead of your competition. Be careful about the UAV you use. I would definitely suggest getting a higher priced one so that you actually use it, and it doesn’t sit on the shelf. I demonstrated my eBee to someone who bought a $7,000 drone. All he said afterwards was, “I just wasted $7,000.”

Your comments on UAVs at last summer’s ASA Soybean Marketing and Production College in St. Paul were very well received. What has happened since then?

Golly: We’re still just getting the business set up, but a lot of co-ops and farmers want to talk to learn more. We’ve even gotten calls from all over, including Utah, North Carolina and Arizona. We haven’t advertised, but we’ve had clients coming and wanting to know what we can do for them. So it’s been very easy so far. The response is exciting, and it’s fun to use the technology and hopefully make farmers some more money.

What challenges do you see ahead?

Golly: I think we’ll need to stay on top of what the FAA is doing. The FAA has a number of guidelines already: The drone’s weight has to be under 4 pounds, it can’t fly more than 400 feet in the air, it can’t fly near an airport and it can’t fly at night. FAA is working very rapidly to get the rules for agriculture set up. I think they’re learning as everybody else is, and they just need to regulate it so nothing bad happens — there are issues about privacy, for instance. The goal is 2015. Then you’ll have to get your UAV registered and licensed, so local governments can keep track of it, much like a four-wheeler.

Plus, there’s going to be a lot of new technology coming to keep up with. The drones themselves may stay the same but the imagers and cameras will get more advanced.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Real-World UAV Experience In Agriculture

  1. “There are a lot of $5,000 UAVs available, but they don’t fly themselves.” – Well of course there are automatic drones for even less than $5,000 which perfectly fly themselves, for instance Lehmann LA300 which is around $4,000 as far as I know..

  2. While the Lehmann LA300 is a cheap entry to UAVs, it’s not designed for agriculture purposes. First, the cameras are out in the open hanging down from the bottom of the aircraft exposed to damage upon landing, nor does the Lehmann include NDVI specific or multi-spectral cameras needed for professional level crop analysis. The wing is made of lightweight foam (similar to swimming pool noodles) and it’s doubtful they will hold up under rigorous daily use. Also, professional farmer/agronomist grade UAV systems include the image stitching and NDVI enhancement software. Some also include crop evaluation data. Now, add those necessary items to the $4,000 price and you’re well above $6,000.

Precision Ag Stories

Precision AgGoogle Glass: New Tool For Ag
October 8, 2014
New wearable smart technologies such as Google Glass show potential to greatly impact how we accomplish the business of feeding the world. Read More
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: Finding The Payback
September 6, 2014
Profitability in precision ag is not about any one technology, but the result of employing technology in a total system approach that is agronomically sound. Read More
Precision AgUAS: The S Stands For Smart, Service And Sensors
May 1, 2014
The only thing occuring more rapidly than the technologies’ evolution is the clamoring to implement UAS into agriculture as soon as possible. Read More
Precision AgAg Retail: 3 Tech Trends To Watch In 2014
April 1, 2014
It's been a busy first quarter of technology developments in 2014. Here are some of the highlights, and things to watch in the months ahead. Read More

Trending Articles

Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScience
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Offers New Support For Ferguson, Area Communities
October 8, 2014
Monsanto Co. has committed $1 million in new support for several collaborative efforts in Ferguson, MO, and surrounding communities in North St. Louis County. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Found In Montana
October 3, 2014
USDA reports that one year after discovery of Monsanto's unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has again been found in Montana. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
The deadline to vote for the 2014 CropLife IRON Product of the Year is October 31. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More

Latest News

CropLife 100GROWMARK Announces Appointments In Plant Food Division
October 22, 2014
GROWMARK, Inc. has announced the three key staff changes in its Plant Food Division. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Appoints New VP Of Finance And Risk Management
October 22, 2014
Wade Mittelstadt has been named GROWMARK Vice President, Financial and Risk Mangement, effective December 1, 2014. Read More
FungicidesEPA Approves BASF In-Furrow Corn Fungicide
October 22, 2014
Field trials show Xanthion In-furrow fungicide provides more rapid emergence, extended residual control and improved seedling health than untreated crops. Read More
EquipmentAgraScout App Available At No Cost To Universities
October 21, 2014
AgraScout, a fast and easy to use mobile crop scouting app, is now available at no cost to University students, Read More
LegislationNew Farm Bill Program To Provide Relief To Farmers Affe…
October 21, 2014
The USDA has implemented a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers affected by severe weather, including drought. Read More
ManagementGreenfield Scholars Program Aims To Sustain Agronomy Wo…
October 21, 2014
The program encourages talented students to study agronomy, crop and soil sciences while cultivating networks to develop the necessary workforce to sustain the profession. Read More
Paul SchrimpfPrecision Ag: Taking It To The Hill
October 21, 2014
A new coalition took the good news message of precision agriculture to Washington, DC, last month. Read More
ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million In Small Business Research Gran…
October 21, 2014
The grants will provide high quality, advanced research and development that will lead to technological innovations and solutions for American agriculture. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Terminates Merger Discussions With Yara I…
October 21, 2014
CF Industries Holdings and Yara International have terminated their discussions regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Ranked A Top 10 Biotech Employer For Third tim…
October 20, 2014
Syngenta ranked in the top 10 among the world’s top biotech employers, according to an annual survey conducted by Science magazine. Read More
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Break Ground For New Facility At Kennebec
October 20, 2014
Wheat Growers has broke ground for a state-of-the-art shuttle loader grain handling, fertilizer and agronomy facility in Kennebec, SD. Read More
FertilizerVerdesian Life Sciences Signs Agreement With Los Alamos…
October 20, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has signed a licensing agreement with Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop and market LANL’s latest nitrogen enhancement technology for plants. Read More
MicronutrientsStoller Group Announces Groundbreaking At New Office Bu…
October 20, 2014
Jerry Stoller, founder and president of Stoller Group, announced the groundbreaking at the site of the company’s future headquarters in Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Systems Opens New Production Facility In Nevada
October 20, 2014
BioSafe Systems has completed construction of a state-of-art production facility in Sparks, NV, for its line of activated peroxygen products. Read More
Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScien…
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechEPA Approves Dow’s Enlist Duo Herbicide
October 15, 2014
The Enlist Weed Control System, breakthrough technology to fight resistant and tough weeds, has received the long-awaited green light from federal regulatory authorities. Read More
MicronutrientsGypsum On Farms Could Help Keep Water Clean, Not Green
October 14, 2014
Gypsum, which has roots in the past as a farm soil treatment, also may have a bright future, and not just as a booster of crops but also as a protector of water. Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Crop InputsVerdesian Grows Sales Staff
October 14, 2014
The new account managers will drive sales growth and support relationships with key customers in the plant nutrition and seed treatment and inoculants product categories. Read More