With many expecting FAA to announce preliminary commercial regulations in the next few months, if not sooner (the agency recently extended the Section 333 exemption flight ceiling to 400 feet and rumors are flying that it will consider allowing flights over small groups of people), now is looking like the prime time for ag retail to truly figure out how it intends to implement drone technology into the tried-and-trued trusted advisor portfolio, writes Matthew Grassi on CropLife.com.
“Whether it’s the equipment dealer or the input supplier for N, P, and K, I think that just like farmers are trying to build ROI or find new ways to save time or save money, I think that the retailers are going to be looking at finding additional revenue streams and look for ways to continue to build value for their growers,” said Matt Barnard, Crop Copter Owner & CEO, during Commodity Classic back in March.
Barnard, a University of Illinois graduate and former seed industry leader that farms corn and soybeans with his family in Foosland, IL, views his team at Crop Copter as “the old man in the room” since the company has been working on precision agriculture applications for its multi-rotor and fixed-wing mixed fleet for the past four years. He feels that after four years of many long nights pondering how drones would ultimately fit into the farm scape, the ag retailer is the most logical choice to lead the way.
“To me, that ag retailer that’s already good at building value and being the trusted advisor, that agronomist, I think that’s the first opportunity (for UAVs in agriculture),” he explained. “So who’s it going to be, when is it going to be, and what is it going to look like? That’s yet to be determined. But I think if retailers wait for it to be fully cooked, you’re going to be way behind, because there’s plenty of people already out there learning about them. I’m not advocating anybody go out and buy a fleet of these things tomorrow, but you better have somebody in your organization playing with them.”
Implementing a drone imagery service at the retail level not only provides another revenue stream for retailers, but it also gives the trusted advisor a success story they can share with growers that are perhaps tired of hearing about depressed commodity margins and jacked up seed costs.
“There are retailers all across the Midwest that have adapted and adopted it and are growing their businesses, and the cool thing that I see from those guys is that they have something right now that’s very positive to talk about with their growers at a time where, let’s be honest, it’s not always a lot of fun to talk to them,” said Barnard.
“I don’t like $3.50 corn as much as the next guy, but when prices go down it’s just like a pond in a drought — you get all of your rocks exposed. So we have an opportunity to clean those rocks up, or we have an opportunity to ignore them, right? To me, I look at it as an opportunity to look back at our balance sheets and see some things that we are doing right and that we are doing wrong, and something that before maybe didn’t make as much sense, now all of a sudden you can have a positive ROI.”