It’s very likely that you’ve noticed that drones, once a hobby for a few enthusiasts, have become major tools across a number of industries. Today, construction drones survey and map job sites, military drones spy on enemy combatants, and delivery and cargo drones transport goods across increasing distances. And now drones are even found on our agricultural farms!
Ag drones not only capture photographs, but can also use sensors to track factors like crop health, the presence of insects, and irrigation levels. Some ag pros even use drones to engage in “precision farming,” where the drones accurately and efficiently plant seeds and spray crops, saving time and money, and reducing waste. The global market for drone-powered solutions in agriculture is already estimated to be at $32.4 billion, with 74% of U.S. farmers currently using or considering adopting drone technology to assess, monitor, and manage their farms.
The growing popularity of ag drones is why Equipment Trader has now opened up our online marketplace to include drones as an option for buying and selling. We’re so excited that today on our blog, we’re reviewing 8 things to consider when buying an ag drone!!
1. Rotor or Fixed Wing: Drones typically take off and maneuver via a collection of helicopter-like rotary blades, or by fixed wings than operate like an airplane. Rotor drones have greater maneuverability, lower cost, compact size, simpler ease-of-use, and higher payload capacity, but can only operate over a shorter range, are less stable in the wind, and more likely to incur damage if they crash (since mechanical failure most likely means they drop right to the ground). Fixed wing drones have significant operation range, greater stability, and are less likely to incur damage if they crash (since wings allow them to glide to the ground in the event of mechanical failure), but are more expensive, harder to operate, less capable of mapping, and require a larger take-off/landing zone. Rotor drones are the most popular option on farms, but you have many options to choose from!
2. Sensor Compatibility: This should be one of your primary interests, as various sensors can determine things like plant height, biodiversity, nitrogen levels, drought stress, and crop health, as well as predict plant count and forecast yields. If you want those benefits, ensure a drone can incorporate visible, near-infrared, and/or thermal sensors. The ideal ag drones will allow for sensors with quality lenses, size, and resolution capabilities, and will be compatible with relevant programs like normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI).
3. Camera Quality: From monitoring fields to examining miles of fencerows or the tops of tall grain bins, photographs can help ag pros keep tabs on their farms, making camera quality a necessity when acquiring an ag drone. You should also consider a drone camera with a mechanical shutter, which accounts for changes in distance between the camera and its object while capturing images and can return clearer images and mapping.
4. Up-to-Date Tech: Just like smartphones grow more advanced every year, so too do drones make major leaps in innovation at lightning speed. Ag drone buyers will want to keep up with the upgrades and new models that become available, which have hardware more capable of accomplishing tasks and software more compatible with current programs and tech-support. The fast pace of invention typically means that, like smartphones, new drones are much more common purchases than used drones, and are often the best choice for professional ag operations.
5. Consider Likelihood of Loss: When buying your first drone, purchase one you can afford to lose. It’s very possible your drone could crash at some point, especially if you are an inexperienced drone pilot. If you sink a fortune into your first drone, you’ll be afraid to use it, making it a pretty ineffective farm tool. It could be best for your first drone to be a cheaper, introductory aircraft, with the understanding that once you are comfortable with the technology and are crashing less, a newer and more advanced drone will serve you much more effectively.
6. Spare Batteries and Parts: The battery will not last as long as you want. Your drone will crash, especially if you’re still learning how to pilot it. Knowing these facts means you’ll need to stock up on multiple batteries and spare parts that match the drone you choose so your operations are not unnecessarily interrupted.
7. Get Drone Insurance: Knowing that the major risk to drones is crashing, you may want to consider if your model is eligible for drone insurance. This protects you from incurring the full cost of a lost drone, and also can give you financial protection if your drone happens to damage people or property when it crash-lands. At a minimum, you should consider purchasing the manufacturer warranties for your drone and relevant equipment like cameras and sensors.
8. Remain Flexible: Don’t get locked in to a single brand or model of ag drones, but consider building a fleet with different capabilities. There are so many variations out there that could benefit your farm, and so many new updates and models that you don’t want to miss out on. If you can only afford one drone to start, try to buy one that is equipped for multiple applications.
We’d love to know what you think! Do you use ag drones? Would you ever consider using an ag drone? Let us know in the comments below!!