The Drone Effect: Better Data, Smarter Decisions

Back in July following a bad storm, 5th generation farmer and Director of Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District, Joe Rothermel needed a quick and accurate way to view and assess crop damage in his field. Located in Broadlands, Illinois, Rothermel’s corn field had been damaged due to strong winds from a thunderstorm in late July, with winds up to 40 mph. 

“I really needed a way to look at my fields from the air and get a picture, because if I can show my insurance adjuster that 20 percent of this field is down, I can get a payment for that. So they [Agrible] came out and flew,” said Rothermel.

When dealing with down corn and various forms of crop loss, it is hard to see the damage unless you walk the field, which is very difficult and often time consuming. “You really don’t know what you have until you get out there in the combine, and most of the time, it’s just in spots,” explained Rothermel. 

As a solution, Rothermel was able to get drones over his field to provide the necessary data he was looking for. “Some of the best images I got from the drones were from the video cameras and the stills. What you can see is all of the mess. Where you can’t make out the rows, that is what I consider down. It is extremely difficult to walk through,” said Rothermel.

Drones are a great way to better assist growers, as they provide quick aerial coverage and greater access to fields, which in turn allows the grower to assess crop damage and crop loss with faster, more accurate data. This helps growers in their next steps towards making valuable decisions, like having a conversation with crop insurance adjusters. They are also able to make better informed decisions for logistics planning, like where and when to harvest:

“I was quickly able to see the down corn, and so now we are trying to get it out first so more of it doesn’t go down,” revealed Rothermel.  
Once he was able to see the damage from the drone images, Rothermel then had the resources to make appropriate and valuable decisions with his insurance adjuster. “If they [insurance adjusters] can see the areas that are definitely down, there will be a way to quantify that and come up with some numbers,” he described.

When asked how drones could benefit others, Rothermel stated, “We could get more accurate data, and faster. What my insurance guy wanted me to do was get my yield maps, and where the yield was low, he was going to say that was where the corn was down, but that’s not necessarily the case. A lot of the time where you have a water hole, there’s low yields, but the corn is standing fine,” he said. “Drones would provide truer data, rather than using a yield map.”

According to a May 2016 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, “The global market for commercial applications of drone technology, currently estimated at about $2 billion, will balloon to as much as $127 billion by 2020.” The drone industry is growing fast, and will offer new and efficient solutions for growers.

Already flying? Test out Agrible’s Pocket Drone Plan™, a free iOS app that checks wind speed and direction, visibility, weather conditions, and controlled airspace boundaries to provide UAS Drone flight recommendations at current locations or on personalized Morning Farm Report™ fields. Flight conditions are updated hourly to show if conditions are favorable to fly, if caution should be used before flying, or if the conditions are not suitable for any flight.