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Global farm equipment dealer explains move into drone offerings

By Luke Geiver | March 02, 2017

The conversation on drones and precision agriculture farming practices is changing. Joe Michaels, director of global precision product management with CNH Industrial, the company responsible for designing, manufacturing and selling Case IH and New Holland equipment, told UAS Magazine that his experience at this year’s National Farm Machinery Show shows why.

At the CNH Industrial booth, the team had many precision agriculture-related products, including a drone and software package developed by DroneDeploy specifically for farming and growing operations. The package was there for the first time. Michaels, who has spent more than 30 years in precision ag farming, said his team felt it was the right time to bring the product to his customers. “We were hearing from our clients and our dealers that there was a gap,” he said. The gap was in price and quality. Many producer clients and dealers felt that low-end, basic drones without software weren’t robust enough for day-to-day operations and more expensive platforms cost too much for the need of the user.

The package on display at the show was a DJI Phantom Pro with RGB camera. The set-up also comes with DroneDeploy software.

“The drone was very well received. We had a lot of interest in it and the key part for me is that the questions coming from the farmers and the producers out there are becoming more and more in tune to the true value of what the drone can bring,” Michaels said. “We worked with DroneDeploy to get the right combination of hardware and software.”

Prospective clients were interested and enthused at what the software could tell them about emerging crops. They were also happy that the system didn’t require extensive training. Conversations at the show and throughout the globe—Michaels oversees a team responsible for finding new products and bringing them to market on a global scale—are no longer based on simple curiosity and instead are centered on the fact that drones in farming are now considered must-have tools.

For precision-focused clientele, Michaels can see a continued desire to learn more about what a drone can be capable of. Most users look to sUAVs to both uncover new data metrics or to simply verify a hypothesis the believe to be true in their fields.

In Brazil, CNH Industrial clients are using small drones to improve sugarcane growing and maintenance efforts. According to Michaels, sugarcane stands there are grown to last for five to seven years. When a portion of a sugarcane field dies out, drones are used to determine the extent of missing sections. Data collected from drones is also being used as an input into the decision of fertilizer application across and entire stand. Based on drone-captured data, a grower can use rate control to turn off fertilizer when going through a blank spot. They don’t want to waste any fertilizer, Michaels said, and drones allow them to operate more efficiently.

DroneDeploy’s offering allows for automated flights. The software can process the images into various filters and be available to users the same day a section has been flown. In remote locations, cloud-based services allow users to avoid data bottlenecks and rural connectivity challenges.

The entire package can be purchased on a one-year subscription.

Michaels is already working with his dealers and DroneDeploy to determine how to improve on the system in the future, including new payload and camera offerings. The UAV market is very dynamic, he said, “and we are always looking for more.”