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

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

Top 100 Articles

CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT, Verdesian Ink Distribution Agreement
December 9, 2014
The agreement grants BRANDT the exclusive right to sell and market Verdesian’s patented Steric chemistry in the Turf and Ornamental and eastern U.S. ag markets under the BRANDT Reaction product line name. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Colors Of Custom Application
December 5, 2014
Although many color spray rigs are in the yards of the nation’s top ag retailers, the majority of them still come in only a few shades. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Invests In Meridian Agriculture Distribution
December 4, 2014
Meridian will provide retailers with supplier-branded products and numerous opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: Entering A New Seed Era
December 4, 2014
The seed category has been re-vitalized during the past few years, and more good news (and varieties) are headed the industry’s way in 2015. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Depressed State Of Fertilizer
December 3, 2014
Following downright giddy growth earlier this decade, fertilizer sales have fallen back down to earth the past two years. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechKaren Arthur Joins AgriThority As Seed Treatment Produc…
December 19, 2014
Prior to joining AgriThority, Arthur directed research and development programs, overseeing laboratory and field research, to build the Valent U.S.A. seed treatment portfolio. Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere To Sell Crop Insurance Business
December 19, 2014
Deere & Co. has reached a definitive agreement to sell its crop insurance business, subject to regulatory approval, to Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. of Iowa. Read More
Crop InputsNufarm Fills Regulatory VP Position
December 18, 2014
Nufarm announced today that Rob Schwehr has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Innovation & Regulatory Affairs for Nufarm Americas. Read More
Seed/BiotechReport: China Approves Viptera Corn, U.S. Officials Awa…
December 17, 2014
Chinese authorities have informed some agriculture industry officials the government has approved U.S. imports of a type of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta. Read More
FertilizerMonty’s Plant Food Brings In New Sales Rep
December 16, 2014
Monty's Plant Food Company has hired Warren Kearns as its newest Sales Representative for the South Carolina area. Read More
EquipmentHagie Wins 2014 CropLife IRON Product Of The Year Award
December 15, 2014
The self-propelled sprayer maker has a hit on its hands with the new STS Series model. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Sees China Approving Contentious GMO Corn Soon
December 15, 2014
Syngenta will make an announcement when it receives official documentation from China that Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, has been cleared for import. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Life Sciences Names Vice President Of Communi…
December 15, 2014
Amy Bugg will oversee the execution of all promotional strategies for the corporate brand and the complete product portfolio. Read More
StewardshipFarmers, Retailers Attend 4R Certification 4U Workshop
December 15, 2014
More than 160 farmers and ag retailer attended the “4R Certification 4U” workshop December 12 to learn more about the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, water quality research in the area and cost-sharing opportunities. Read More
Matt Hopkins10 Best New Agriculture Apps For 2015
December 15, 2014
These new agriculture apps are certain to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2015 and beyond. Read More
ManagementARA Learnings, Retail Buying Intentions: Welcome To Cro…
December 12, 2014
This informal video program puts news and events effecting retailers into context, and features Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Herbicide-Tolerant Technology Closer To Commer…
December 12, 2014
The final EIS moves Monsanto one step closer to the introduction of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, paving the way to provide access to dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Issues Final Environmental Impact Statement On Her…
December 12, 2014
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is issuing a final environmental impact statement on varieties of cotton and soybeans that have been genetically engineered for resistance to several herbicides, including the one known as dicamba. Read More
CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
LegislationARA Applauds CFATS Passage Prior To Holiday Adjournment
December 11, 2014
The streamlined bill provides a four-year authorization of the CFATS program and guidance to DHS on key issues of chemical facility security Read More
Seed/BiotechBayer CropScience’s ILeVO Approved By EPA
December 11, 2014
EPA has approved ILeVO, the only seed treatment that protects the root system against infections caused by the Sudden Death Syndrome fungus and has activity against dangerous nematodes. Read More
Biologicals in Emerging Markets Map.
Crop InputsBiocontrols Could Quadruple By 2025; Will Regulators Pl…
December 11, 2014
The European experience with GMOs offers caution — and a promise — for biologicals. Read More
Crop InputsBASF Donates $75,000 To Feeding America
December 10, 2014
The donation will support Feeding America’s National Produce Program, an initiative that helps with planning, transportation and logistics to ensure fresh produce deliveries to the 200 member food banks around the country. Read More