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Meet Matt Barnard, Founder of Crop Copter

From the moment you meet Matt Barnard, you know you’re dealing with a straight shooter. His candid attitude about agriculture, especially as it relates to emerging technology, quickly reveals that he is committed to building a productive, profitable, and sustainable operation through responsible growth.

Besides being a farmer, Barnard is the founder of Crop Copter, a business borne out of ensuring that agriculture has a voice in the unmanned aerial system (UAS) arena.

“About a year ago, I had a salesman stop while I was harvesting corn,” recalls Barnard. “He tried to sell me a hobby-grade unmanned aerial vehicle for about 10 times what it was worth. He didn’t know anything about ag. He didn’t know anything about my farm’s needs or my concerns. All he wanted to do was make a quick buck. Right then and there, I knew farmers needed a voice, if for nothing else, to keep the industry honest.”

As the third generation in his family’s Illinois farming operation, Barnard shares his insight on the UAS industry as well as the issues he sees agriculture facing.

SF: How do you set yourself apart from other UAS companies?
MB: Crop Copter is one of only a few farmer-owned UAS companies. Our team is directly involved with production agriculture. On our farms, we expect what we buy to work, who we buy it from to support it, and that it will solve real issues on our farms. We are our customers.

It’s also why our tagline is By Farmers, For Farmers.

We do not want to be the answer; we want to be the tool to get you the answer.

For example, growers are going to have unique nitrogen-management plans for their farms. They know the land they work better than any computer or modeling software. Instead of telling growers what they need, what if we could help them make their own informed decisions based on an ultra-accurate, quick NDVI map that they could use to develop their own 
strategy.

SF: What do you see as the biggest misconception about UAS use in agriculture?
MB: In my opinion, the biggest misconception is that a UAS is the so-called silver bullet. A UAS on your farm won’t solve all of your problems overnight. However, if used right, it should get you thinking and evaluating your operation more. It is a tool just like your combine, planter, or computer.

The purpose of a UAS is to help you look at a particular challenge from a different angle – literally. The more information you have at your fingertips, the better informed decisions you make.

While UAS ownership is not a silver bullet, it could become a critical piece in your farm-management arsenal.

SF: How do you think you will be using a UAS on your farm in 10 years? 
MB: In 10 years, I think UAS use will be as common on the farm as an ATV and a 4×4. Instead of taking cool pictures and videos like we do today, the UAS of the future will be heavy on the sensor side. We also will have much more liberal laws that govern UAS use. I think we will see a UAS used to help identify stress areas as they happen.

I also believe we will be feeding our crops differently in the future. Instead of applying what we think the crop needs, we will be applying what the crop tells us it needs. A UAS will be a big part of that. I think we will be able to document pest pressure more accurately and maybe even make very precise applications.

I think, too, that a UAS will get lumped into a new category – unmanned agriculture equipment – that will include UAS vehicles and other unmanned, autonomous farm machines and implements. The future will be exciting, and agriculture will be at the center of that evolution.

SF: What is the biggest challenge facing farmers today? Five years from now? Ten years from now?
MB: The biggest challenges facing farmers today surrounds the volatility present in our current ag cycle. Commodity price swings, input costs, high machinery costs per acre, and higher-than-normal family living expenses will have to be looked at and managed in the short term.

In the next five years, access to capital will be critical to producers. During that time, many growers will be retiring and operations will be passed between generations. Growers’ relationships with their lenders will be critical to their 
success.

In the next 10 years, farmers will have to have successfully managed the areas listed above while dealing with more regulations and a population that understands production agriculture less and less. We will have to educate our end user better. We will have to continue to produce more with less. We will have to have a unified industry voice to successfully influence those who make policy that we must live and operate by.

SF: If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
MB: I’d choose the person who is the most uninformed about what I do. Maybe it’s the non-GMO leader or the person who thinks all farmers are hicks. Maybe it’s someone who thinks that nothing good comes out of the Midwest, or the mother who thinks farmers are poisoning her children’s water.

Whoever it is, I would want to meet – not to argue but to understand why that person is so passionately against a particular area in agriculture. Did something bad happen? Did they read something on the Internet? Where are they getting their information?

I’m not going to lie and say I don’t like a good debate, but these groups represent such a vocal minority. I come from a group who is a part of an even smaller silent minority. We have to figure out where the disconnect is. I don’t know any livestock producers who are hurting their animals or any corn producers who are trying to grow an unsafe crop.

I would use my dinner date to, hopefully, try and understand the other side and to find some common ground – maybe even change a perception.

SF BIO

Name: Matt Barnard
Hometown: Foosland, Illinois
Background: Agriculture is all the Barnard family has ever known. Yet, Ted Barnard felt it was important that his two sons, Matt and Brett, establish themselves off the farm before returning to the family’s Illinois operation. Matt, who is a University of Illinois graduate, had a 14-year career in the seed and chemical industry prior to coming back to the farm in 2013. That same year he started Chief Agronomics, LLC. Crop Copter is a part of its value-added service. Barnard Farms produces corn and soybeans across five Illinois counties.

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