The weather is warming up and planting season in finally underway — which means many growers will turn to drones for the first time to collect aerial crop data.
To help you get started on the right foot, we reached out to ag expert Jim Love. Jim is the Light Robotics Manager and Herbicide Specialist at Beck’s Hybrids. He’s helped growers implement drones on their farm — and learned a lot in the process.
Here are five tips Jim thinks every ag pro should know before they go into the field with their drone for the first time.
Buy the Right Drone for the Job — And One You Can Afford to Lose
Choosing the right drone can be tricky, but we’ve put together resources to make it easier. Jim recommends using the drone that works best for you. Don’t feel like you have to purchase an expensive system. If a DJI Phantom 4 Pro can capture the data you need, buy that. Save yourself the money and increase ROI in the process.
Unfortunately, accidents can happen. Jim has worked with growers all over the midwest, and he’s seen his fair share of drone accidents in the process. “Buy a drone you can afford to lose,” says Jim. Don’t go overboard. “Don’t get in a position where you get indigestion every time you take off. A tool you’re afraid to use isn’t a very valuable tool.” Risking expensive equipment when an affordable model and camera can do the job is unnecessary.
Offset additional risk by getting a drone insurance policy. Learn more here.
You have to crawl before you can walk. Jim recommends flying your drone manually and getting comfortable with the controls before making a field map with DroneDeploy. Jumping straight into drone mapping can be challenging for your first day. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by getting the hang of manual flight before you fire up the DroneDeploy app and make your first field map.
We’ve put together 10 tips for making your first map with DroneDeploy here.
Not Every Map Will Be Valuable
This tip may come as a surprise to some, but Jim wants to set expectations correctly. “Not every map you make with DroneDeploy is going to be solid gold,” says Jim. In fact, many drone maps are going to tell you what you already know about your fields, such as water holes or places where you towed a grain cart with your tractor. But don’t get discouraged. When you fly frequently, you’re going to uncover things you didn’t know — such as areas of poor crop health, disease, or irrigation issues that emerge throughout the season.
The More You Fly, the More You Know
While every map won’t provide “solid gold” insights, you have to fly often to catch issues when they do emerge. “The more you fly your fields, the more you will get maps with valuable information,” says Jim. And unlike other methods of aerial data collection, drone data is available on demand at little per map.
The nice thing about the costs built into this model is that you’re not spending $2-$3 per image. So if you get a map without valuable data, that’s ok. See what happens next week when you go out and fly again.
- Jim Love, Light Robotics Manager and Herbicide Specialist, Beck's Hybrids
Whenever Jim goes out into the field, he makes sure to pack the right gear. He charges his devices, brings multiple drone batteries and packs several SD cards every time.
Having multiple SD cards is good for a couple of reasons:
- By changing out the SD card each time you fly a new field, it’s easier to organize your data efficiently — which saves time when you get back to the office or your house to upload and process your map.
- If your SD card fails — which can happen — you want to be prepared. This way you can avoid downtime and wasted efforts in the field.
“That’s what it’s all really about,” says Jim. “Helping customers save time and make good decisions so that we’re all successful.”