- Who This Guide is For
- The Top 3 Agriculture Drones (Ready To Fly)
- Ag Drone Service Providers
- What Is Precision Agriculture?
- Where Do Drones Fit in Precision Agriculture?
- Drone Advantages Over Other Aerial Imaging Systems
- How Flying Cameras Measure Crop Health
- First Decision: Fixed Wing or Multi-Rotor?
- Getting The Data: Imaging & Sensors
- Surveying Crops By Drone: The Process
- How Much Does It Cost?
- Leading Ready-To-Fly Ag Drones
- Drone Insurance
- Options and Upgrades
- Common Issues and Concerns
- We’re Still In The First Season…
Who This Guide is For
This buyer’s guide is for farmers and agriculture service professionals who are contemplating using unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the health of crops and livestock.
It covers everything you need to know, including the leading drones used for precision ag; popular imaging software packages & services; a short list of UAV surveyors; and the latest FAA regulations governing use of drones in agriculture.
- If you are interested in flying your own fixed wing or multi-rotor agriculture drone, then this guide will tell you everything you need to know to select and buy the right UAV for your needs.
- If you plan to hire a third party to survey crops for you, then this guide will make you a smarter buyer.
In this guide you’ll learn:
- how & why drones are used to scout fields & crops, to check the health of plants
- the benefits & limitations of using drones vs. other aerial survey methods
- the different software and hardware components required
- how to get started – including a short list of ready-to-fly drone packages designed specifically for agriculture
TIP: Use the Contents box in the upper right corner of this guide to view everything contained this guide, and to jump straight to what you’re after.
For Professionals Only
Agriculture drones are not your run-of-the-mill consumer-grade camera drone or racing drone. They are advanced data gathering tools for serious professionals. Prices for complete, ready-to-fly ag drone systems range from $1,500 to over $25,000.
There are two types of professionals who might want to own an agriculture drone:
- farmers who want to fly their own imaging missions; and,
- agriculture service providers and others who fly drones for farmers.
If you fit into either of these categories, then please note:
The FAA views all agricultural drone activity as commercial drone operation. This means the drone operator must have a Remote Pilot Certificate to fly.
This is true, even if no money changes hands.
To learn more about the FAA’s new pilot requirements, check out our drone operator safety guide.
In other words, there’s no such thing as an amateur agriculture drone operator.
If you get pitched by a drone outfit claiming they don’t need a remote pilot certificate to survey your field, then run – far, far away.
The Top 3 Agriculture Drones (Ready To Fly)
Here are the most popular ready-to-fly agriculture drone systems in the world. Except for the Phantom, all are ready-to-fly and come equipped with all the software, sensors and hardware you’ll need.
Top 3 Fixed Wing Ag Drones
- senseFly eBee Ag: very popular w/ ag service providers; full drone-to-tractor workflow.
- PrecisionHawk Lancaster: widest range of aerial sensors available; a complete software + hardware solution.
- Trimble: this French company recently received a 333 exemption to operate its UX5 drone in the US. Hardware, software and processing. Expensive.
Top 3 Multi-Rotor Ag Drones
- AGCO Solo: Based on the new 3DR Solo quadcopter, this add-on kit includes an RGB camera for color imaging and a near-infrared camera for monitoring plant health.Includes one year of Agribotix imaging software. The package produces high-resolution orthomosaics, NDVI maps, and Field Health and Management Zone maps.
- senseFly eXom: a new quad developed by French drone manufacturer, Parrot, specifically for agriculture applications. Includes an image processing pipeline based on Pix4D.
- DJI multi-rotors: the Phantom 2 is the most popular “beginner” agriculture drone sold to date. Its replacements, the Phantom 3 and Phantom 4, kick it up a notch with DJI’s new GPS autopilot software and a higher-quality camera/gimbal with more control. More recently, PrecisionHawk released DJIFarmer (see latest price), an integrated crop surveying add-on for DJI’s commercial multi-rotors, the Matrice 100 and Matrice 600.
Ag Drone Service Providers
There are thousands of drone operators in the US today, and about one-third claim to offer services useful to farms.
With the FAA’s new regulations, which allow for new pilots to get their remote pilot certificate by simply taking a written test, no doubt thousands of new operators will soon be hitting the market.
But that doesn’t mean they know how to fly safely. Nor does it mean they know how to shoot orthomosaic images for your farming operation.
Here are a few reputable, experienced & certified drone operators and image service providers that currently serve agriculture businesses:
- Empire Unmanned (ID): Empire was the first ag drone service to receive a 333 exemption in the US. Robert Blair is one of the principals and is one of the most knowledgeable speakers on using drones for precision agriculture.
- Vine Rangers (CA): this Northern CA service provider specializes in servicing wine growers.
- AeroHarvest: Like Vine Rangers, this CA company serves vineyards with leak detection and optimizing irrigation schedules.
- AgWorx: A specialist in precision agriculture from Raleigh, NC. that handles everything from harvest timing to software applications for data collection on the ground and in the air.
- Digital Harvest (formerly BOSH Precision Agriculture): This Newport News, VA, business specializes in collecting images, processing data and producing useful agricultural informatics.
- Leading Edge Technologies: Based in Winnebago, Minnesota, Leading Edge converts drone data into farm intelligence for applications such as grain management and other precision agriculture solutions.
- PrecisionHawk: This startup from Raleigh, NC, is creating an algorithm marketplace to help interpret and correlate data collected from satellites and drones. They also manufacture the Lancaster fixed wing drone and supply DJI with ag-specific add-ons. A leader in the industry.
- Trimble Navigation: Aside from its massive GPS business, this Sunnyvale, CA, outfit offers many applications for precision ag, from yield monitoring to water management.
- Wilbur-Ellis: This $3 billion farm equipment supplier is working to bring satellite and drone imagery to AgVerdict, its software platform for agronomists.
- Measure32: This full-service drone operator provides image survey and processing for a wide range of industries, including agriculture. They operate over 300 drones and UAVs for business purposes.
For a larger collection of agriculture drone service providers & pilots, check out DroneList.com.
What Is Precision Agriculture?
Precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops.
The goal of precision agriculture is to more efficiently apply a farm’s limited resources to gain maximum yield. A primary method for doing that is to minimize variability of crop health within and across fields. To learn more about precision agriculture, read this excellent overview published by The Economist.
Due to its nature, precision agriculture requires a LOT of data to work. The three main types of data include:
- geo-tagged images: visible and multi-spectral aerial images taken of fields, over time; this is where drones play
- equipment performance: real time feedback & logs provided by sensor-equipped manned and unmanned equipment such as seeders, spreaders, tractors and combines
- management data: crop yield and other data provided by farm operators
The use of precision agriculture technologies is growing very quickly, globally, according to Technavio.
Where Do Drones Fit in Precision Agriculture?
Drones are really just a new, high-precision way to obtain geo-tagged images from the air.
Compared with other aerial survey methods, drones generate more precise and more frequent data about the condition of crops. This data is used in many ways to improve the performance of a farm’s operation.
For surveying fields of less than 50 hectares in size, drones are cheaper than manned aircraft surveillance, manned scouting and satellite imaging.
Some claim that the new FAA rules will restrict the usefulness of drones for agriculture, because under the new Part 107 rules, all observation and measurement must be taken by a drone that is within visual line of site (VLOS) of the operator. This becomes an issue for fields and farms that are bigger than VLOS.
But the vast majority of farms don’t have this problem.
According to this report, there are approximately 2.1 million farms in America. The average size is 434 acres. Small family farms, averaging 231 acres, make up 88 percent, meaning that 1.85 million farms can benefit immediately from ag drones.
Drones are used to gather a variety of image-based data about the condition of crops, fields and livestock – including:
- plant height
- plant count
- plant health
- presence of nutrients
- presence of disease
- presence of weeds
- relative biomass estimates
- 3D / volumetric data (piles, patches, holes and hills)
For livestock operations, drones can be used to monitor the location, status and movement of animals over time with more frequency and at a lower cost than other means.
Drone data is used to do farming jobs more effectively and efficiently, including:
- Crop Scouting – replace men with drones
- Crop Health Monitoring – biggest ROI, by far
- Field Surveying/Scouting (before planting)
- Nitrogen Recommendation
- Yield Monitoring
- Plant Stress Monitoring
- Drought Assessment
- Senescence Analysis
- Leaf Area Indexing
- Tree Classification
- and more
To take quick action, orthomosaic images generated by drones can be fed into an agricultural program like SMS by Ag Leader, SST Summit®, FarmRite®, Stratus®, Sirrus®” or other software tools to create prescription maps.
Prescription maps inform the farm operator where & what specific actions are needed, such as increasing or decreasing nitrogen spread on trouble spots. Prescription maps can be transferred directly into a precision applicator (sprayer) like a John Deere® or Case IH®.
Here’s a great 7-minute video segment produced by Iowa Public TV that explains why more and more farmers are incorporating drones into crop management.
Drones & Agronomy Management Systems
Because of the amount of data required, many precision farmers use agronomy management systems to collect and integrate all of the data flowing to/from their sensor-equipped tractors, combines, drones and other equipment found on farms today.
Drones interact with agronomy management systems by feeding them with rich, detailed and timely geo-tagged images. Using this data, farmers can react more quickly and more precisely than they can using other aerial imaging methods.
Drone Advantages Over Other Aerial Imaging Systems
By some measures, 80% of the global drone industry revenues touch agriculture in some way.
But why would farmers – some of the most risk-averse people on Earth – adopt such a new technology?
Perhaps it’s because agriculture drones offer clear advantages over other crop monitoring methods including satellite imaging, manned scouting and manned aircraft. These advantages include:
- Cheaper Imaging: for fields less than 50 hectares in size, drones are considerably less expensive than satellites or manned aircraft surveillance.
- Greater Precision: drone cameras take centimeter-level images that reveal much more detail about a crop’s condition.
- Earlier Detection of Problems: because drones survey more frequently, weeds, pests and other abnormalities are detected earlier.
- Total-Field Scouting: instead of riding an ATV around the perimeter to scout perhaps 5% of a field, now every field can be scouted 100% using drones.
- 3D/Volumetric Data: drone images can be used to calculate the volume of piles, holes, hills and patches. These can be compared to Infrared images to detect density issues like hot spots in a crowded beet field, or to identify contour problems such as north slope shade issues.
- More Frequent Index Reporting: drones offer a cost-effective way to monitor crops more frequently for key indices like CCCI (canopy chlorophyl content index), CWSI (crop water stress index) and NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index).
In day-to-day operations, these advantages help farmers catch problems faster and react more quickly, which can save thousands of dollars in crop losses per field.
Long-term, the data generated by drones help farmers gain a more accurate & detailed picture of how their crops are reacting to their management strategies, which can lead to more effective use of limited resources.
After all, a typical family farmer only gets 40 chances (seasons) to get things right… every extra bit of knowledge helps!
How Flying Cameras Measure Crop Health
Most agriculture drones depend on multi-spectral imaging to spot problems with a crop’s health; specifically, they look at changes over time in visible light (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) light reflected by crops. These images are taken over time by drones, manned aircraft or satellites.
It is possible to detect plant health from these images because plants reflect different amounts of visible green and NIR light, depending on how healthy they are. By measuring the changes in visible and NIR light reflected from a crop, we can spot potential health issues.
This image explains the general idea:
To monitor changes in plant health over time, drone images are processed to calculate a tracking index called NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index), which is a measure in the difference between light intensity reflected by the field in two different frequencies:
NDVI is the ratio of near infrared (NIR) reflectivity minus visible red reflectivity (VIS), divided by NIR plus VIS:
NDVI = (NIR-VIS)/(NIR+VIS)
Here is what you see when you compare a normal camera image of a winter wheat field to a NDVI-processed image of the same field:
Notice how the NDVI-enhanced image (right) does a great job separating the healthy wheat stalks (green) from dying edges (red) and the dry earth (black/brown).
There is some debate over whether NDVI is the right index or whether the simple difference between light spectrums (NIR – VIS) is more useful. Agribotix put together a great writeup on this debate and the misconceptions re. what NIR spotting can and cannot do today.
NDVI is the most popular index calculated using drone data, but there are many others. Some may be more or less important to your farm, depending on your situation. Some of the more popular indices include:
- CWSI (crop water stress index): measures temperature differentials to detect/predict water stress in plants. Requires a thermal imaging sensor and the use of a nearby weather station.
- CCCI (canopy chlorophyl content index): detects canopy nitrogen levels using three wavebands along the red edge of the visible spectrum. Requires visible and near infrared cameras.
If you want to dive deep into this emerging science of agriculture image processing, here’s a list of the latest research.
First Decision: Fixed Wing or Multi-Rotor?
Fixed wing drones like the AgEagle RAPID, PrecisionHawk Lancaster and SenseFly eBee Ag are often preferred by farmers because they can cover more area and spend more time in the air than a multi-rotor platforms like the DJI Phantom 3.
That said, they can’t do everything and are best suited for large, open-field scanning.
Fixed wing drones often carry more payload than a multi-rotor – which means more sensors – so more information can be captured in a single flight. This can reduce the total time to collect data for a given acre.
Fixed wing drones are more expensive, too – they cost $5,000 to $25,000 or more after being fitted with sensors.
Multi-rotor ag drones like DJI’s Matrice 100 (with PrecisionHawk DJIFarmer) are better-suited to precision imaging of small/constrained areas and 3D scanning of fields and objects, due to their maneuverability.
Flight times for quads and other multi-rotors are about 1/2 that of a fixed wing drone.
Payloads on many multi-rotors are less than fixed wings, so most only carry one or two sensors. As a result, covering an entire field can take twice as long as with a fixed wing.
Multi-rotor drones are generally cheaper than fixed wings, starting at around $1,500-$3,500 for a professional-grade camera drone with software for agriculture image processing.
The Best of Both Worlds
Rather than opting for one type of drone, some farmers and operators purchase less expensive versions of both.
A fixed wing drone is used for large open spaces where long, unobstructed straight-line passes are possible; and, a small inexpensive multi-rotor is used for spot-checking trouble areas more closely, for quick scouting missions and for handling area a plane cannot fly over.
Lots of farmers today start by buying a ready-to-fly $1,500 quadcopter like DJI’s new Phantom 4.
After testing the ROI of drone surveying, they may upgrade to more expensive and less time-consuming solutions.
Getting The Data: Imaging & Sensors
There are many choices of imaging sensors available today for agriculture drones. Options range from $200 for a GoPro HD camera to well over $50,000 for a hyper-spectral camera.
The most common and cheapest type of sensor is a high-resolution camera, which takes visible wavelength images (VIS). Several of these cameras can also take near-infrared images (NIR) when equipped with the right filters.
The minimum image resolution required for agriculture applications is 12 megapixels, which popular drone cameras such as the GoPro Hero 3 and Hero 4 are capable of capturing.
In contrast to what most photographers will tell you, you want a camera with a wide-field, wide-angle or “fish-eye” lens, as these lenses tend to capture more area in a single shot. Don’t worry about the image distortion – quality image processing software eliminates this during processing.
Some of the more popular cameras used in agriculture today include:
- Sony QX1: compact, lightweight mirrorless camera takes 20 megapixel high precision Images in RAW and JPEG. VIS images only.
- Canon EOS Rebel SL1 DSLR Camera Kit: captures VIS images only.
- Zenmuse X3: Gimbal and camera system used on DJI systems. VIS images only.
- GoPro Hero 3 and Hero 4: lightweight and weather-proof, GoPros are often used on lower-cost quadcopter drones. It’s probably the most popular ag camera in use today. VIS images only.
- MaxMax offers a line of Nikon, Sony and other model near-infrared (NIR) cameras priced from $500 to $5,000. NIR and VIS versions.
Multi-spectral imaging sensors allow you to see things you cannot see in the visual spectrum, such as wet patches on the ground.
The MicaSense Red multi-spectral sensor (shown above) lists for $6,450.
Another option is the Sentera NDVI upgrade for the DJI Phantom series drones. This is a new ultra-lightweight NDVI sensor for Phantom 3 and Phantom 4. The DJI gimbaled camera is not modified. Captures visual-band (VIS), near-infrared (NIR), and NDVI data together during a single flight.
Airborne thermal sensors can see hotspots and measure changes in land and plant temperature over time.
Thermal sensors can also detect the presence of water due to its cooling effect, which can be helpful in spotting crop damage due to drought and/or seasonal issues.
LIDAR is a precise remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analyzing the reflected light. LIDAR is commonly used to measure buildings and land masses with precision, and to develop an accurate 3D model of an area.
LIDAR sensors are very expensive, often costing $60,000 to $150,000.
Surveying Crops By Drone: The Process
Whether you use a fixed wing or a quad to survey your fields, the process of gathering useful data with a drone consists of 4 basic steps, as follows:
1. Plan Your Flight
Many of the latest agriculture drones come with flight planning software that lets you to draw a box around the field you want to survey (on a Google Earth map or similar), and a flight plan will be created for you automatically. Some even plan the camera shots for you, automatically.
Then, you upload the flight path into your drone and get ready to fly.
If you are using a home-built platform or an older ground control station, then you may need to manually code or set each turn point.
2. Fly & Shoot
With your flight plan loaded and drone armed, it’s time to start flying – and shooting images.
With a fully-integrated system like the PrecisionHawk Lancaster, this part is easy.
Basically, you just send the drone on its way and the system will automatically take images using the onboard camera and sensors as the drone executes its flight path. The drone will use GPS location to trigger each shot.
After finishing its run, the drone lands automatically (usually all goes well). Easy!
If you don’t use a completely integrated drone package, then one person will need to take the shots manually while a GPS autopilot or another pilot flies the aircraft.
If you are manually shooting your images, please bear these points in mind:
- to capture high resolution data correctly for ag purposes, your images need to overlap with each other by at least 70%
- shoot images based on GPS location, not time, to ensure you get the image overlap and the coverage needed
3. Process Images
The most challenging part of the agriculture drone surveying process is translating the hundreds of high-res images you just captured into information you can actually use. But don’t worry, it’s not that hard to do (or learn).
Most farm drone operators need to process hundreds of visual, thermal and multi-spectral images per flight, to identify changes in crop health over time or to spot anomalies.
All of these images need to be stitched together, converted into orthomosaic 2D images, processed and analyzed for you to get useful information from the flight.
That’s a lot of data processing. And your home PC probably isn’t up to it.
This is where image processing software and services come in.
Popular Image Processing Software for Agriculture
Most agriculture drone operators use the following tools to turn aerial images into useful data. All of them use cloud-based processing to take the load off of you:
- Pix4D: this popular & expensive image processing platform converts a series of aerial images into 2D orthomosaics, 3D point clouds and 3D mesh models. Pix4D can also calculate NDVIs, DVIs, SAVIs and custom indices as needed. To use Pix4D, you upload your images, let them process, then receive your reports and visuals typically within minutes to a few hours. Pricing is $350 per month to rent or $8,700 to own.
- AgEagle’s RAPID
- senseFly’s Postflight Terra 3D: based on Pix4D, this is senseFly’s software for converting aerial imagery into 2D orthomosaics, 3D models and differential indices. Terra 3D is provided free with all eBee drones.
- PrecisionMapper by PrecisionHawk: now called Data Mapper, this is a cloud-based application that gives anyone the ability to upload, store, process, and share their aerial image data. Works with some, but not all, UAS platforms.
- Trimble: designed for professional land surveyors, Trimble’s Photogrammetry Module office software to create detailed orthophotos, digital elevation models, point clouds, volume calculations and 3D models. Trimble’s general-purpose Inpho UASMaster Module can be used for advanced photogrammetric processing.
- DataMapper by PrecisionHawk: a 100% cloud-based platform that supports image capture, differential processing and algorithmic analysis for many industries. Their unique Algorithm Marketplace lets you pick & apply specific algorithms to extract useful data such as NDVI, DVI, plant counts, scouting reports and more.
- Correlator3D™ by SimActive: advanced photogrammetric processing client software for use on high-end PCs. Several aerial survey firms such as AeroVironment use them. Performs aerial triangulation (AT) and produces dense digital surface models (DSM), digital terrain models (DTM), point clouds, orthomosaics and vectorized 3D models.
Some image processing platforms are proprietary to the flying hardware you’re using, and others are general purpose tools that anyone can use. General-purpose packages like Pix4D tend to have a bit of a learning curve.
Image Processing Services for Agriculture
If you don’t want to operate the software yourself, you can upload your data to a data processing service who will generate the reports for you.
4. Review & Take Action
Now that you’ve downloaded your reports and enhanced images, it’s time to see what’s up with your crops.
Perhaps you’ll see issues your scouting crew couldn’t see from the ground:
Or, maybe you’ll find a problem with water retention after the latest storm:
Or, perhaps you’ll uncover new trouble spots in your corn fields that need a bit more nitrogen:
Whatever you find, after you’ve reviewed the health of your crops you can input the data into one of several farm management systems like MyAgCentral to improve your overall view of the farm’s health and operational status.
And take action.
How Much Does It Cost?
Agris Co-op Ltd. in Chatham, Ontario is one of the first precision ag drone imaging service providers to enter the Canadian market.
Using fixed-wing eBee and Swinglet drones, the firm shoots high-res NDVI images of corn fields in Ontario for a price of about $5 an acre. A single flyover covers 100 acres in 15 minutes, capturing about 300 images for a price of $500.
This compares to a cost of about $1,500-$2,000 for satellite or manned aircraft photography of 100 acres, or $15-20 per acre; and, both these older methods yield less resolution, can be hampered by cloud cover, and take more time to process the images.
On a single day, Agris can cover more than 1,000 acres using a single drone. Images are post-processed in about 2 days.
For another custom full-service cost estimate, check out the nifty Drone Service Cost Calculator on Measure.aero’s website (they have a Sec 333 Exemption, too).
Leading Ready-To-Fly Ag Drones
If you want to fly your own crop surveying drone, but aren’t the type who likes to build custom RC planes, then you’ll be happy to know there are many complete, integrated ready-to-fly agriculture drones available for sale right now.
Some of the best-known complete agriculture flying platforms include:
- AgriBotix ($9,500) includes a full year of data processing
- DJI Matrice 100 ($3,200) or the larger Matrice 600 ($4,499), with the DJIFarmer add-on by PrecisionHawk.
- SenseFly’s eXom
- PrecisionHawk’s Lancaster: up to $25,000; includes hardware, software and tools for day to day operation, a visual sensor and a multispectral sensor.
- SenseFly’s eBee Ag
- Honeycomb’s AgDrone UAS: $15,000; includes visible RGB and multispectral NDVI cameras, flight planning software and unlimited data storage in the cloud
- AgEagle: $18,800; includes DroneDeploy flight planning/control, training and free replacement wing
- Precision Drone: $4,500 to $17,500; built by farmers, for farmers
For any commercial activity, it’s a good idea to insure yourself against property damage, liability and lawsuits. All you need to do is search “drone lawsuit” to prove it’s worth getting insured.
At Interdrone 2015, Scott Smith of SkySmith shared this example of what it costs to unsure a $20,000 drone (about the cost of a PrecisionHawk Lancaster):
To minimize your risk of loss, make sure you read our Drone Flyer’s Safety Guide.
Options and Upgrades
Without going into detail, you should be aware that some of your system’s components can be upgraded or replaced if you don’t like what you’re currently using.
The most common components upgraded include:
- Ground Control Station
- RC Controller
Avoid changing image processing tools and services that have been designed with your hardware in mind. Something to think about when selecting your first drone.
Common Issues and Concerns
Flying a drone for agriculture involves many of the same issues facing consumer and other commercial drone operators. But there are a few gotchas unique to agriculture, especially when it comes to data and the EPA.
There’s a lot of noise in the media today about camera drones taking photos of people without their knowledge. Shotguns have been used to settle the score.
While this could happen on a farm, it’s unlikely.
Nevertheless, your neighbor’s home and fields are their property, and taking unauthorized images of them could violate local or state privacy laws. And state legislatures are on fire, when it comes to drones.
Nineteen US states (Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana,Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation. 6 other states have adopted resolutions.
In 2015 alone, 45 states have considered 156 bills related to drones.
So: make sure you check with a local lawyer to get the latest rules in your region.
Connectivity and Bandwidth
Millions of acres of farmland in the US have little to no online connectivity or cell coverage. If this includes some of your fields, then you need the ability to store captured images & data locally – in the drone or on a nearby ground station – and then upload them later on, when you get back to the office.
Systems such as AgOS by Agriworks operate under the assumption you may not have connectivity at all times.
Don’t choose a drone that requires a live connection to the internet to capture data; it just isn’t a good choice for agriculture.
The image data generated by agriculture drones can be really useful for lots of people other than farmers.
The EPA, county officials, drone operators, land surveyors and land management officials can get a tremendous amount of value from your geotagged images – if they have access to them.
Some organizations can also do damage to a farm if they have access.
For this reason, ownership of data is a critical legal issue that needs to be dealt with upfront, via contract, whenever you:
- hire someone to perform an aerial survey of your farm
- process your images through a third party (software or service provider)
- share or commingle your images with a third party
By default, the farmer/land owner should always retain full ownership of all data generated by drones flying over his/her property. Then, via contract, these rights can be granted to third parties on a need to know, exception basis.
Bottom line: you never want a third party to own your data.
FAA Regulation & Operator Certification
Flying drones for agriculture is always a commercial operation, according to the FAA.
By law, your drone operator must have FAA operator training and have their remote pilot certificate before they can operate a drone over your land.
If they are not properly certified to fly an unmanned aircraft, then you should not hire them nor let them operate a drone over your property – even if no money changes hands.
By law, the EPA has the right to access any and all data generated by drones flying over your property.
There’s nothing you can do about this. For this reason, data retention and storage policies are important to pay attention to.
Interference With Other Aircraft
Crop spraying and other manned aircraft may share the same airspace as an agriculture drone.
For this reason, it is important to file a flight plan with your local airport/FAA office before every drone flight.
Make sure your drone operators understand this, too.
We’re Still In The First Season…
Little known fact: Japan has been using unmanned aerial drones for over a decade, in rice farming.
But in the US & Canada, agriculture drones are very new.
In fact, the first FAA exemption for a precision agriculture drone operator was only awarded in January of 2015.
And according to that operator, Empire Unmanned, only 5-10% of farms are using drones in their precision agriculture operation.
If you have any questions or comments about this buyer’s guide, please leave them below in the Disqus comments section.
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