Doing Good

Farmer Recoups Additional $110,000 in Crop Losses Thanks to Drone Imagery

November 17, 2016

It was a terribly wet July in Western Kentucky, and for the area’s tobacco farmers, this spelled trouble. Heavy rains, such as the ones seen this summer, can decimate a tobacco field, leaving a farmer with huge losses to bear. As a result, most carry extensive insurance on their crops.

The standard in the industry is for crop adjusters to survey damage manually, walking only select sections of a field and taking pictures of damage. Doing any more than this manually would require far too much time. Based on the information gathered, the adjuster must extrapolate to estimate the damage across the entire field. Given the limited amount of data they have to work with, even the most seasoned adjuster can sometimes come up with an estimate that is far below the actual losses a farmer has suffered.

As is illustrated in the following case study, brought to us by Gregg Heath of Silicon Falcon Micro Aviation, farmers and crop adjusters are increasingly turning to the commercial drone industry to help recover a fair percentage for lost crops.

UAVs a Natural Step for Retired Pilot

Starting a commercial drone business seemed like a natural next step for Gregg Heath, who spent most of his career working as a professional pilot. His business partner is also a pilot, as well as a retired state trooper who uses drones for accident reconstruction. Together they started Silicon Falcon in January of this year. Being around aviation for most of their professional lives, they were both somewhat familiar with trends in the drone industry. But it wasn’t until they went into business for themselves that they began to realize just how indispensable commercial drones are becoming for a wide variety of industries

Silicon Falcon Micro Aviation

Heath has spent the last year growing his business and refining his skills. If he has just one piece of advice for someone starting out in the commercial drone industry, it is this: Find a testing ground where you can practice flying your drone in a variety of scenarios. You will enhance your skills and also develop a great portfolio of maps to show to prospective clients. For his part, Heath had an existing relationship with a local farmer (he taught him how to fly a plane several years ago.) During the last growing season, he used the farmer’s fields as his testing ground, flying them at various stages of growth.

Testing your drone in real scenarios is relatively quick and doesn’t cost anything,” says Heath. “It gives you great experience and the chance to play around with different settings in a real-world environment.

- Gregg Heath, Silicon Falcon Micro Aviation

As it turned out, this testing ground led to a turning point in Silicon Falcon’s business. Prior to this July, Heath and his partner had primarily used their drones to monitor crop health for farmers near their home base in western Kentucky. But when the farmer who owned the test fields suffered huge tobacco crop losses during the summer rains, he called on the pair to help with his crop insurance claim. The map that resulted from the process, and the insurance savings it brought the farmer, has quickly become news in the community. As a result, Silicon Falcon expects that helping farmers recoup the cost of lost crops will become a larger part of their business.

DroneDeploy Map

DroneDeploy Tailor Made for Crop Surveying

The losses Heath’s client faced were devastating. Nearly 100 acres of tobacco crop was flooded, rendering it unviable. But, after visiting the damaged fields, the crop adjuster offered the farmer a 34% loss. The farmer had assumed the damage was closer to 50%. Faced with the possibility of swallowing a huge margin of loss, he called on Silicon Falcon to produce a map that would provide a much more comprehensive picture of the damage.

DroneDeploy is really tailor made for when you are surveying crops

- Gregg Heath, Silicon Falcon Micro Aviation

Using the RGB4K camera and a near-Infrared sensor, Heath flew the field with his Phantom 3 Pro. After about an hour of uploading, and three more hours during which DroneDeploy processed the images, he was able to produce a crop health map, providing real-time data only a day after after the insurance adjuster’s visit.

Heath used the plant health algorithms and histogram within DroneDeploy to help estimate the crop loss
Heath used the plant health algorithms and histogram within DroneDeploy to help estimate the crop loss

Aerial Map Finds Damage Not Seen By Insurance Adjuster

The Silicon Falcon team Using the area tool on an orthomosaic map, the Silicon Falcon team gathered a rough idea of the crop damage, drawing lines around the obvious areas of bare ground. They then applied the histogram scale to highlight variability within the field and get a better idea of the damaged areas. Ultimately, they came up with a crop loss of almost 50%, compared to the 34% offered by the insurance adjustor.

Armed with a 3-foot by 3-foot orthomosaic map, the farmer convinced the insurance adjuster to revisit the site. Using the annotated map as a reference point, the adjuster ground-truthed a targeted section of the field and, based on the new information he gathered, offered the farmer a 47% loss. This amounted to an additional $1,100 more per acre above the original claim amount.

For the 100 acre field, this meant the farmer recouped $110,000 more than he had initially been offered.

A farmer knows his land. When a major loss occurs, he is probably the first to know just how much damage has been done. But proving that damage is difficult because crop adjusters can only spend time walking a small portion of a field. An aerial survey of crop damage gives farmers and adjusters real-time, comprehensive evidence to support insurance claims. An annotated map produced in DroneDeploy can be used as a reference point for an adjuster to conduct targeted ground-truthing. The result is a far more accurate picture of a farmer’s losses, and hopefully, a fair insurance settlement.

Where to Learn More

To learn more about the use of drones in agriculture, listen to this summer’s webinar, “Lessons from the Field,” featuring ag experts Chad Colby and Jim Love.

As always, be sure to check out our support documentation for tips on using some of the tools discussed above, including:

Interested in automating evaluation of crop damage for insurance claims using drone maps? Try the new Crop Damage Analysis app from Skymatics, available in the DroneDeploy App Market to install right within the DroneDeploy interface.

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