What Farmers Want From Farm Drones, or How to Choose an Agricultural Drone

I've written before about how farmers can make money from drones, but I received an email from a farmer in the Midwest asking for more information on what kinds of features would be best for farmers interested in taking advantage of agricultural drones on their farms. While I don't claim to be an expert on the matter, I've had the opportunity to consult and work with farmers in a few different parts of the Midwest regarding their needs and how drones might best meet them. I've also logged a few hundred hours flying my Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter as a farm drone, and have been able to collect valuable farm information that's led to improvements in crop yields. Here are some of the things I've learned from farmers along the way about what farmers want from farm drones:

1. Quadcopters and quadrotors, not planes

This might be the single biggest complaint I've heard from farmers interested in contracting drone pilots or buying drones for farm and agricultural work. Is it possible to use a plane drone or UAV successfully on a farm? Absolutely. But what I've heard from a number of farmers, and seen with my own eyes, is that the majority of farms out there don't have consistent places for fixed wing drones to land. In other words, there aren't runways.

The result is that even planes that can take off and land in relatively short landing strips tend to become destroyed in a few flights if paved landing areas are not present. And as noted above, the majority of farms in the Midwest don't come with those. However, quadcopters and helicopters are capable of taking off and landing vertically, which means there is a near-infinite amount of potential launch and landing sites available in the average farm. These drones are also coming with ever-larger forms of energy storage, with some topping out at an hour or more of flight time and miles of flight range.

In contrast, planes tend to only work well with exceptionally large farms, and even in such situations, there isn't nearly as much flexibility as there is always the need to locate reliable and safe landing areas.

2. Video is far more important than photography

While a picture may tell a thousand words, a video may tell ten thousand more. Farmers have good eyes and know how to spot things. They know their farms and they know what they need to do in order to make their farms a success. This is precisely why it's a good idea to have cameras that offer first-person-view, or FPV, video feeds, such as those in the Phantom 2 Vision+. When you've got a live view of everything your drone is seeing, you have a literal eye in the sky that gives you a perspective you simply aren't going to get on the ground.

With such a view, a farmer can look for issues, spot them, and pilot the drone directly toward the area with issues. Of course, this is something you can only really do with a quadrotor, as the ability to hover is what makes taking a closer look possible. The truth of the matter is that a farmer might not even be aware of what s/he needs to be on the lookout for at the start, and simply discover it midflight. There are also situations where what's important is simply to have one's eyes open, rather than to investigate a specific area of one's farm.

3. The ability to record can make all the difference

Being able to see what's going on ten acres away is impressive, but being able to record what you're seeing so you can review it later in the comfort of your home on the farm might be even more important. The human memory can be a fickle thing, and it can be quite hard to remember which part of a farm had a set of crops that were ready to be harvested vs. the part of the farm that had the crops that weren't quite there. Being able to look back at previously recorded video or photo stills can save valuable time and enable farmers to make the right decisions without needing to travel physically out to various parts of their land to take a closer look.

What does this all mean?

It means that farmers have specific needs when it comes to farm drones, and these are centered around flexibility, first person video capabilities, and the ability to record and review footage and stills that document the states of their farms. From my experience in helping farmers meet these goals, I can easily say that a good drone is worth thousands of dollars a month in data.

However, I also have to acknowledge that there are very few drones out there that have these capabilities to the degree expected by farmers besides those sold by DJI. My Phantom was indispensable during my farm consultations, and it did things that most of my other drones simply couldn't. Choosing the right drone makes a big difference.

In conclusion, if you are a farmer interested in flying drones to manage your farms,  I'd personally recommend the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. You can read a full review of mine here, and you can buy it from Amazon here.


Hi! My name is Mike, and I'm the author of this personal drone blog. If you find the information on my flying drone review blog useful, you can shop through Amazon here.

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