Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Do You Want to Drone in Agriculture?


A couple of months ago I was participating at the Drone World Expo (DWE) www.droneworldexpo.com as a speaker, town hall panelist, and DWE Advisory Board member. Over 2,100 people attended this event. There was a nice little trade show but more importantly presentations from some of the national leaders in Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) use, applications, regulations, and such.

UAS for firefighting, UAS for maritime use, UAS for building inspection, etc. were just a few of the topics covered. Mine was on agriculture.



Agriculture has been tabbed by many as the largest market for commercial UAS application. However, during my national and international travels speaking, exhibiting, and learning I have found that those outside of production agriculture do not have a clue of the people in the marketspace or how to relate to them. What many see is a cash register sitting on a tractor.



This can potentially be a recipe for disaster for creating a commercial UAS industry and/or company.



Some of these same people trying to create a form of agriculture UAS startup are the same people that focus on buying “local” or are into “sustainable agriculture” or don’t like “factory farms” or hate “chemicals”. Or they take part in trendy fads such a gluten free, free range, cage free, grass fed, organic, or other marketing gimmick targeted against the industry I love.



I’m not trying to tell everyone what to do, I’m just saying don’t talk bad about farmers with your mouth full! You have to realize that your actions, while seemingly innocent, directly affect the people you are wanting to receive money from.



Farmers and ranchers aren’t just American Gothic (the picture of a man in overalls with a pitchfork with a woman in a dress with a white house in the background). Many are CEOs of multi-million dollar international businesses. That’s right! You see, much of what they produce is shipped overseas. You are dealing with C-suite executives that have a much better view than their urban counterparts and do more work for less pay.



One farmer in four uses a smart phone and tablet. They also wear many different hats such as engineer, agronomist, soil scientist, veterinarian, heavy equipment operator, mechanic, carpenter, electrician, plumber, accountant, marketing specialist, and on and on. They usually know more about national and international politics than the average person…because their businesses depend upon the winds of political climates and good information.



Don’t try to BS them…you definitely won’t pass the “sniff” test! They aren’t buying drones because it’s labeled for agriculture, they bought it because they love toys and it’s an extension of the childhood they never grew up from. Remember, they play in a huge “sandbox” with bigger Tonka Toys than you or they had in their youth.



In my lifetime there have been two important technology advancements that were put on life support because people just wanted to make a buck and/or it wasn’t explained properly to the agriculture community.



The first was LandSat in the 1970’s. This technology is the foundation on what UAS data is based upon. The commercial agriculture market didn’t start utilizing this type of information until the 1990’s and it’s still trying to catch on.



Second is precision Ag equipment from the 1990’s. The first yield monitor was produced in 1992 and auto steering and auto boom weren’t too far behind. I remember riding in a combine with a yield monitor in the mid 1990’s and my dad saying to me when I was telling him about it “why would you want something like that?”



Precision Ag and remote sensing markets have been gaining momentum since 2010 and UAS have been a part of that increase. Yield monitors and auto steering are now part of all combines and tractors instead of an option. But in looking at the timeline, it has taken a good 15 years for farmers and the agriculture industry to trust again technology and the companies that sell and service it.



The infant commercial UAS industry and companies in them need to do a quick history lesson. While fifteen years is not that long in the scheme of things, it is roughly 1/3 of the working span of a farmer in agriculture and farmers have long memories. I was just a kid driving truck in my first harvest, but I can tell you what the weather was like in 1977 and every year since.


So be very careful. Do not oversell your products or services to this very fragile market called agriculture. Move slowly and try to understand what it is they are wanting and needing. If you are able to do that, then you could have a very successful company in the agriculture industry.

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