CropLife Survey: 87% of Ag dealers using UAVs are not generating a profit or don't know

This article provides good data on adoption trends for precision agriculture. It includes data on UAVs and confirms what I've been reporting all along about this market.

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Comment by Thorsten on June 13, 2015 at 1:46pm


thanks for sharing!

The conclusion of the report is: "complexity increases" and "big data and aerial collection of data will be important to watch over the next couple years"

Some comments on the report:

- "16% were using UAVs"
-> That's much much more than I expected. Hence I assume some bias in the survey.

- "38% of dealers saying they will offer UAV services in the next three years".
-> Well, but can they deliver?

- "only 13% of those who are using UAVs are generating profit"
-> that's what I expected, since it is - and most probably will stay for quite a while - a new technique. Reserarch is required as is the reduction of costs (UAV, software, other harware such as RTK GPS, cameras, etc.) and the development of simple and relieable workflows.

- "on 16% of the acres UAV technology will be use in 2018"
-> this is again much more than I expect. I guesstimate < 5% in Eurpoe.

- field mapping is and will play a major role
-> this is true. Climate is the major driving factor of plant growth, followed by soil properties and site management. Soil moisture is of major importance. The advantage of UAVs is that you can (easily) generate time series data on plant health. A combination is what helps. It requires knowledge about soils, plants, GIS and UAVs. It is complex.

UAVs in agriculture are a hype. But UAVs will have an impact on aggriculture. It will take a while.

Looking forward to it!

Comment by Dan Murray on June 13, 2015 at 4:01pm

Well, is this a surprise, at least in the US? Up until a few months ago, they weren't legally allowed to generate a profit.

Comment by Colin Snow on June 13, 2015 at 5:08pm

Dan - Just to clarify the restriction on use was / is not about whether a firm makes a profit or not. FAA categorization of commercial activity involves operating aircraft for hire, so it's receiving compensation for aircraft use and operations - not the profit you make.  

Event so UAVs for ag must have a positive ROI - not only for the service provider (in this case the ag dealers) but also for the grower who pays for the service provided.  Right now the UAV ag sector is struggling with that for several reasons.  One reason is incumbents who provide a similar service (like Crop Quest and TerrAvion) have scaled and lowered costs. But in other industries (like Film/Photo/Video) UAVs don't have that problem, so adoption is higher. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the low adoption in ag is to look at the number of Section 333 exemptions by industry so far. This graph illustrates this nicely.

Comment by Dan Murray on June 13, 2015 at 5:21pm

Well, wouldn't you say a restriction on any commercial operation precludes making a profit? ;)

Anyway, I'm not disagreeing with the gist here - I'm in the business (with a 333) and I know some of the struggles Ag adoption is facing. I do believe it will end up being one of the largest markets, but perhaps not as quickly as forecasted.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on June 14, 2015 at 12:24am

Ag will be wiped out by satellite data, in fact I think its actually DOA. There have been long studies in Europe over the several years that the USA has been mucking about and it would seem they have been ignored over scaling up a Japanese study that just does not work when compared to enormous fields out West. Its very interesting watching history repeat itself.

The money is not in data collection, its in data display

Comment by Marcus Wright on June 14, 2015 at 6:18am

"The money is not in data collection, its in data display"  These are wise words, Gary.

Comment by Dan Murray on June 14, 2015 at 7:23am

Yes, agree on that statement 100%. As for UAVs being DOA for Ag, can't get behind that. I think you're right, we'll see satellites picking up some of this in the next 5-10 years, but UAVs will fill the gap. Right now, the highest res commercially available satellite in the US is 31cm GSD, and I don't believe that is a multispectral satellite (those are about 500cm GSD). Fine for general use, but as we find some of the other applications a high (<10cm) GSD enables, I think they will end up serving two different purposes. They both have their pros and cons. 

Comment by Gary McCray on June 14, 2015 at 10:32am

Really interesting point Gary,

Makes you wonder if we can afford to put up all those GPS, communications and military satellites, how we can afford not to put up the obvious Ag satellites.

Obviously it would have a huge economic impact on the GDP (let alone hunger world wide) and it seems like the government should have been pushing that for the past 3 or 4 decades.

The height of stupid short sightedness it seems.

We could have been doing this much more effectively for at least the past 20 or 30 years.

Best regards,


Comment by John Stuart on June 15, 2015 at 7:12am

Maybe multi-spectral ag products from drones are under threat from satellites, but not basic hi-res crop scouting, live video surveillance of livestock, inspection (eg drainage) and security applications. Those products have a bright future.


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