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Is a drone in your farm's future?

01/14/2014 @ 9:39am

The word is out. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have a bright future in agriculture. Although the concept is still in the infancy stage for the farming sector, it hasn’t stopped countless contenders outside of ag from attempting to capitalize on interest among farmers and agribusinesses.

“It is really a time for a buyer to beware!” says Rory Paul, Volt Aerial Robotics. “We have seen a number of companies enter the market with essentially high-priced, hobby-grade products trying to exploit the potential in the ag sector. Some of the products are good, but there are others that are really not suited for agricultural use. You need to do your homework and not be beguiled by the shiny toys.”

A new flight path

Raised on a farm near Noblesville, Indiana, a career in ag wasn’t originally on Aaron Sheller’s radar. When his father unexpectedly passed away, the then Purdue University student was faced with a decision.

“My plan was to be a lawyer or a certified public accountant – not a farmer,” recalls Sheller.

A conversation with a local farmer shortly after his father’s death made him rethink his path. “My dad’s best friend and I were standing down at the grain bin, and he said, ‘Aaron, you’re never going to get rich being a farmer. You’re going to get by.

But you do get to feed the world.’ It was better than any pep talk I had ever had in my life,” recalls Sheller.

That vision of feeding the world also ignited a business that began as an exploration of the capabilities of drone technology.

“Matt Minnes, an agronomic adviser, and I were honestly just developing a drone to utilize ourselves,” Sheller says. “It was amazing what we were able to capture. We saw nitrogen deficiency before the naked eye could see it. We were able to see corn borer feeding in the field without actually going into the field.”

The drone gave Sheller a whole new perspective on his farming practices.

“We’re seeing problems surface we didn’t even know we had,” he says. “It’s changed the way I farm. My number one priority is farming, but if a drone has changed the way I farm, we’re going to take it to market.

“We need to use drone technology not only for our own profitability and understanding about what our crops are doing but also so we can raise more food to feed a growing population,” he says.

A tool, not a toy

Precision Drone, which Sheller founded with Minnes, officially took flight in the summer of 2013.

As a farmer, Sheller believes that the UAV has to be built in such a way that a fellowfarmercanappreciateand can utilize the technology.

“Everybody in the drone world who isn’t a farmer, acts like this is no big deal to operate,” he says. “We’ve crashed it; we’ve broken it; we’ve fixed it. It’s all part of understanding what these devices are capable of.”

To that end, the pair wanted to develop a product that not only was scout-ready right out of the package, but also had a solid support system to assist with questions as well as replacement parts. What that means is their helicopter-style drones, the PaceSetter and Scout, are fully assembled upon arrival and are available through a dealer network.

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