Australia’s agriculture industry is a changing landscape. Economic pressures, shifting population centres and changing climate conditions have made the business more vulnerable than ever.
This has caused farmers to search for new efficiencies that can save time and money. Over the past few years, agricultural drones have emerged as a new norm that offers the automation, technology and power farmers need to stay competitive. As some of the most advanced drone platforms on the market, agricultural drones represent a significant investment – for farmers and drone service providers alike.
We’re often asked how long it takes to recoup that investment. In this article we’re going to explore agriculture drones in more detail, and see how the right system can make a real impact to your bottom line.
The Benefits of Agriculture Drones
In DroneDeploy’s State of the Industry 2022, the agriculture sector reported that the main use of drones was in boosting productivity. The time, labour and cost savings provided by UAVs is substantial, with 54% of respondents saying they would further extend their drone programs in the coming years.
These increases in productivity come from several major areas:
- Reduced need for manual labour
- Reduced need for equipment such as tractors
- Uniform distribution of fertiliser, pesticides and other applications
- Improved safety for personnel
- Improved crop yields
- Low upfront investment costs
Additionally, drones can be deployed on short notice – this makes it easy to schedule drone missions around variables such as weather, which has traditionally been one of the major challenges with aerial spraying.
Types of Agricultural Drones
Drones are already being used to perform dozens of tasks on farms. The flexibility of these platforms means they can be outfitted with a variety of payloads, depending on the mission at hand.
Broadly speaking, agricultural drones are divided into two categories, surveying drones and applicator drones:
- Surveying drones are widely used to collect information about farming operations. From creating maps and models to planning projects, digitising operations and automating crop monitoring, surveying drones have serious potential to increase productivity.
- Applicator drones are specialised platforms equipped with spraying and spreading mechanisms. These can distribute things like pesticide, herbicide, insecticide, fertiliser, seeds and more. With the ability to service crops autonomously, spraying drones are a major boost for operational efficiency.
How to Measure the ROI of Drone-Based Farming Programs
Many farm operators are now investing in agricultural drones.
Owning this equipment in-house makes it easy to schedule drone missions around weather, growing cycles and operator availability. However, specialised drone platforms can be a major expense, and they may cost upwards of $50,000 when fitted with the correct payloads.
To justify this expense, you need to ensure your drones are delivering returns. These returns typically come from several areas of the business:
- Increased crop yield. Optimised drone spraying and the ability to monitor crop health on a regular basis directly impacts yield.
- Time savings. Many recurring drone missions can now be automated. Functions such as crop monitoring, spraying, fertilising and surveying require little input from operators. If you are performing these tasks regularly, the time and labour savings are substantial.
- Materials savings. Drone systems are an incredibly accurate way to deliver pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fertilisers and seeds. This reduces material costs while improving coverage and consistency, which contributes to crop health and yield.
- Reduced maintenance requirements. Agricultural drones have relatively low maintenance expenses when compared to traditional farm equipment. New intelligent battery technology is further decreasing maintenance costs.
The ROI of your agricultural drones is measured as a function of these things. That looks a little different for each operation and it depends on the types of crops you are growing.
Measuring the ROI of Agricultural UAVs as a Drone Service Provider
Measuring ROI is even simpler if you are operating as a drone service provider.
Agricultural drone service providers are in-demand throughout planting and growing seasons. With the right drone, you can offer services that include surveying, mapping, spraying, spreading, planting, yield management and more.
For service providers, Rantizo has shown that the cost of a drone platform can be recouped in just 4 to 6 weeks of continuous use during peak season.
Newer spraying drones can cover as much as 40 acres per hour. That’s 1,520 acres in a five day week. With many service providers charging by the acre, it becomes simple to recover your initial investment by providing regular spraying and crop monitoring services.
Challenges in Meeting ROI Targets for Agriculture Drones
In the right hands, agricultural drones can pay for themselves in a matter of weeks. This adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings across the operational life of the drone.
It’s not all smooth-sailing, of course. Drones technology is evolving quickly, but UAVs still require input from skilled operators. Most drones aren’t a pick-up-and-play solution. Some of the most common challenges in hitting ROI targets are:
- The costs associated with training drone operators
- The need for proprietary or third-party software
- Interpreting and analysing survey data
- Hardware requirements for viewing and managing drone data
- The need for multiple types of drones to perform both surveying and spraying missions
These additional costs can all eat into your profit margins. With that said, agricultural drones still offer clear returns when compared to traditional equipment and manual labour. When large farm machinery can cost upwards of $500,000, it’s easy to justify the cost of a $50,000 drone package.
If these challenges are too complex to handle, farmers also have the option to pay a drone service provider. Drone service providers offer all the same benefits that come with owning the equipment, but it negates the need to train personnel, maintain drone platforms and navigate a new technology.
Unlock the Power of Drones with Courses from UAV Training Australia!
Training is one of the biggest factors in achieving a sustainable ROI from agricultural drones. As highly specialised pieces of equipment, the best way to maximise your returns is to invest in courses from UAV Training Australia!
UAV Training is a registered provider of drone courses in Brisbane and Sydney. We offer courses that cover everything from drone licensing through to specialist agricultural operations. Our training is conducted by experienced pilots, and each course combines classroom learning with hands-on flights using the latest drone platforms, such as the DJI Agras T40 and T50.
If you are interested in piloting agricultural drones, you can browse our specialist courses online, or contact us to find out more!