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

3 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.

  3. Hello
    I’m considering different options to buy a fixed wing drone; people talk a lot about Ebee but I saw Lehmann Aviation LA300 who seem very good for the sames capabilities and a much lower price ; is someone knows about Lehmann Aviation aircrafts? what do you think?
    Thanks for yours answers

Precision Ag Stories

Topcon AGI-4 on MF Planter
EquipmentAutosteer: Compatibility, Accuracy Remain Top Of Mind
July 3, 2015
The world of automatic steering solutions in agriculture has evolved rapidly in the last few years. From after-market add-ons that Read More
Raven Viper 4
Precision AgPrecision Agriculture: In-Cab Computing Adds More Customization, Functionality
June 3, 2015
In terms of in-cab computing solutions for the agriculture market, companies like Case IH, Topcon, Trimble, John Deere and Raven Read More
AgEagle UAV
Precision Ag2015 Precision Agriculture Dealer Survey: Top Four Trends To Watch
June 1, 2015
Editor’s note: The 17th Precision Agriculture Survey was completed with partnerships among the departments of Agricultural Economics and Agronomy at Read More
Retailers
Precision AgThe Human Element Of Precision Agriculture
June 1, 2015
Editor’s note: The 17th Precision Agriculture Survey was completed with partnerships among the departments of Agricultural Economics and Agronomy at Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100Allied Ag Distributors Adds Four New Owners
July 30, 2015
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC has announced the addition of four new customer/owners to Franklin Holding Co. LLC. They are: The Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases California-Based Specialty Crops Retailer
July 20, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has successfully acquired California-based NH3 Service Co.  Operating as part of Pinnacle’s Performance Agriculture brand, the new locations Read More
Asmus Farm Supply liquid fertilizer facility features 20,000 square feet
CropLife 100Slideshow: Asmus Farm Supply Shows Off Its New Liquid Fertilizer Facility
July 15, 2015
Asmus Farm Supply, Rake, IA, recently added a new liquid fertilizer facility to its company operations. The new liquid fertilizer Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Feed Division Facilities Receive Safe Feed/Safe Food Certification
July 13, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co.’s Feed Division, a marketer and distributor of value-added feed ingredients for the aquaculture, livestock and pet food industries Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Expands To Brazil With Acquisition
July 8, 2015
BRANDT has acquired a majority interest in Target Brasil Fertilizantes Ltda. through its Brazilian subsidiary. Target Brasil manufactures, distributes and Read More
Milan Kucerak, president/CEO, West Central
CropLife 100West Central Cooperative And Its New President Are A Match Made In Deviation
June 29, 2015
To appreciate just how unique West Central Cooperative is in the world of ag retail, an observer need only consider Read More
Latest News
CropLife 100Allied Ag Distributors Adds Four New Owners
July 30, 2015
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC has announced the addition of four new customer/owners to Franklin Holding Co. LLC. They are: The Read More
FungicidesReport: Sudden Death Syndrome Symptoms Appearing In Soy…
July 30, 2015
Last week, symptoms of sudden death syndrome (SDS) began to appear in April 15-planted soybeans at the University of Illinois’s Read More
Seed/BiotechAdvanta Seeds Adds New Phoenix Corn Hybrids
July 30, 2015
Corn growers in the High Plains and Western states have new options available for the 2016 growing season from Advanta Read More
ManagementTechnology and agriculture: a Futurist’s Perspective
July 30, 2015
Futurist David Zach, speaking at this week’s InfoAg Conference in St. Louis, shared thoughts on the benefits and limitations of Read More
Biofuels Plant in Lousiana
Industry NewsIdle Biofuels Plant In Louisiana To Reopen As Ammonia F…
July 30, 2015
A Lithuania-based company plans to spend $265 million to reopen an idle biofuels refinery in Grant Parish as an ammonia Read More
FFA at Monsanto Booth at the 2015 National Farm Machinery Show
Industry NewsFive Students Receive The 2015 Monty’s Plant Food Compa…
July 29, 2015
This fall, five college-bound students will have financial support through the Monty’s Plant Food Company FFA Scholarship. All five scholarship Read More
GYPSOIL Blendable Pellets
Crop InputsBeneficial Reuse Management Launches Pelletized Gypsum …
July 29, 2015
Beneficial Reuse Management (BRM) announced this week at Ag Media Summit that its GYPSOIL Pelletized Products Division will open a Read More
StewardshipOhio Water Quality Project To Determine How Much Phosph…
July 27, 2015
Researchers with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University are looking for farmers in Read More
FertilizerKoch Agronomic Services Launches N-TEGRATION Technology
July 27, 2015
Koch Agronomic Services, LLC (KAS) has launched  N-TEGRATION Technology, a process technology platform designed to enable production of enhanced efficiency fertilizers at Read More
HerbicidesExpert: IARC Herbicide Classifications Leading To Confu…
July 24, 2015
Few people in the crop protection industry had heard of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) before this Read More
ManagementFCI Trade Summit Update & Precision Tank Turns 50
July 23, 2015
Editors Dave Frabotta and Eric Sfiligoj discuss the upcoming FCI Trade Summit in Las Vegas, NV, and how Precision Tank Read More
Palmer pigweed seedhead in cotton
HerbicidesUSDA Deregulates Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Cotton Trait
July 23, 2015
The USDA today issued its decision deregulating Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist cotton trait in the U.S. The USDA has now completed its Read More
Industry NewsVerdesian Life Sciences Showcases Versatile Product Por…
July 23, 2015
Technology has revolutionized agriculture by bringing farmers, retailers and distributors to the forefront of the digital age. To meet the Read More
FertilizerWSJ: Cf Industries Exploring Merger With Dutch Chemical…
July 23, 2015
U.S. fertilizer maker CF Industries is in advanced merger talks with Amsterdam-listed chemical company OCI NV, the Wall Street Journal Read More
HerbicidesNufarm Releases New Panther SC Herbicide
July 23, 2015
Nufarm has announced the availability of new Panther SC herbicide. Panther SC is the first liquid formulation of flumioxazin available Read More
EquipmentFarmLink Launches Farm Equipment Sharing Program
July 23, 2015
FarmLink has introduced a new online farm equipment sharing community – MachineryLink Sharing – leveraging this new economy business model Read More
HerbicidesCould The South’s Most Troublesome Weed Represent A Thr…
July 22, 2015
Palmer amaranth is undoubtedly the most troublesome weed in the southern United States, taking a devastating toll on both cotton Read More
Industry NewsH.J. Baker Hires New Director Of International Sales
July 22, 2015
Global Agriculture firm H.J. Baker announced today that Steve Langley has joined the company’s Crop Performance Division and Animal Health Read More