Country Guide recently published an article by their Production Editor, Ralph Pearce, titled "Field imagery much more just a pretty picture." In the article, Country Guide interviewed several ag professionals who specialize in precision agriculture and asked for their thoughts on the current state and future of aerial imagery solutions for agriculture. Their insights aligned very closely with TerrAvion's mission. Here's what the experts had to say.
Aerial imagery is here to stay
The perception that aerial imagery is just a pretty picture of a field, a luxury that is nice to have but not impactful in terms of increasing profits, is outdated. That's something that all of the individuals interviewed for Pearce's article expressed. While specific ROI numbers can be hard to quantify, the overall economic benefits achieved by implementing an aerial imagery program are undeniable. "I can't show a clear sign of growth, citing specific figures," says Danny Jefferies, the integrated solutions data and agronomy support consultant with Huron Tractor, adding that he believes the potential for aerial imaging is real and is building. "Many companies that deliver aerial imagery have drastically simplified the process from a user perspective and will provide the deliverables and insights very quickly with minimal effort on behalf of the user."
Ag professionals know that the industry is changing, and to survive, they need to adapt and embrace data and technology as a tool that can increase their efficiency and profits. "Most people know that 'the old way' does not work anymore," says Brandon Yott, strategy and business development manager for A&L Canada Laboratories. "Sustainability, traceability, vertical integration, and razor-thin margins make this a different game. These are tools to help us make better business decisions and get a better handle on return on investment and managing variability. The costs are falling significantly, and every day the technology is getting better. It's getting faster and cheaper, and higher resolution at the same time."
Satellites don't provide required resolution, drones too expensive
There are three types of aerial imagery providers for agriculture; satellites, drones, and crewed aircraft/airplanes. Until recently, satellite and drone imagery received most of the attention when evaluating the aerial imagery for agriculture market. Yott had this to say; "the potential is virtually limitless. But here's where we are. Satellite imagery is inexpensive, but the quality is sub-par and not always available because of clouds. Drones are more expensive but provide higher resolution." Yott accurately summarizes the trade offs between drone and satellite imagery here. Yes, satellite imagery is inexpensive, but what value does imprecise data have in the world of precision agriculture, where precise data is required to capitalize on subtle opportunities to increase already razor-thin margins? Powering a modern precision agronomy program on satellite imagery is like having the latest computer technology and running it off of dial-up internet. You may be able to receive emails or do a slow google search, but you can't stream video or run the latest web-based software, which was why you invested in a new computer in the first place.
Jack Legg addresses the drawbacks of drones, saying, "What impedes its progress today is the cost of driving a drone to a field, creating the imagery and stitching together a comprehensive map (which can be difficult with slower computer processing), analyzing and ground-proofing. The total cost can be higher than the benefit, especially framed in the context of $5 per acre for a single image that might not reveal anything that can be managed". There is no arguing that drones produce high-quality, actionable data. But at what cost? As Legg mentions, the average cost for a single drone flight is $5 per acre for a single image. A single image allows growers only one chance to respond to crop changes, provided that the image by chance was captured at a time when actionable insights were apparent.
Aerial imagery provided by crewed aircraft offers the benefits of both drone and satellite imagery with none of the drawbacks. TerrAvion subscription aerial imagery, which is captured by crewed aircraft, offers the frequency of satellite services and the high-resolution features of drone imagery. The cost of a single drone flight is the same as an annual subscription with TerrAvion, which includes 20+ weeks of flight attempts. TerrAvion 10 cm resolution imagery is over 30x higher in resolution than the leading satellite imagery. TerrAvion also offers thermal imagery, a valuable crop monitoring tool for water management and irrigation issues. Thermal imagery is not available through satellite services. Growers no longer have to choose between cost, frequency, and resolution. TerrAvion provides it all.
Moving past the barriers
The individuals interviewed for Pearce's article appear to reflect the common, current perception of aerial imagery solutions for agriculture; the potential is limitless, but there seem to be a few barriers standing in the way of more widespread adoption. Perhaps the most significant obstacle is a lack of skilled professionals capable of reading imagery and extracting actionable insights. Legg notes that there is "a missing link in the growth of precision agriculture. It's the emergence of advisors who can extrapolate data and interpret the results for growers." This void offers a considerable opportunity for ag retailers, consultants, and agronomists to step into that role and provide a new service to their customers. These individuals or groups have the opportunity to partner with imagery providers as distributors, allowing them to supplement their income by selling imagery while also delivering their customers higher ROIs, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and sales.
To read the full CountryGuide article, click here. For more information on aerial imagery solutions for agriculture and TerrAvion services, please complete the form below.