NAAA CEO Andrew Moore joined member Bill Reynolds and Taranis’s Mike DiPaola as guests on The Business of Agriculture Podcast hosted by Damian Mason this week. Reynolds is the president and CEO of Leading Edge Aerial Technologies. DiPaola is the chief commercial officer at Taranis, which uses high-resolution aerial imagery to generate AI-powered crop intelligence. Damian Mason is a farmer, businessman, speaker, author, podcaster and consultant. Damian has appeared on television and radio and can also be found on SiriusXM Radio – Laugh USA. He was NAAA’s speaker for its 2020 Ag Aviation Expo Kickoff Breakfast. The panel was assembled to discuss the future of manned and unmanned aircraft in the aerial application sector.
Released May 22, the name of the episode is “Aerial Agriculture—A Bird’s Eye View of Drones, Manned Aircraft & Tomorrow.” Throughout the nearly hourlong episode, Mason and his guests covered several topics, including if manned ag pilots are fearful of being replaced by drones, the regulatory environment for UAS operations, advances in the efficacy of manned and unmanned aerial application equipment, the financial aspects of drone spraying, and more.
Here are selected excerpts, along with timestamps you can skip to in the episode to hear more:
(9:26) Moore, on whether there is a threat of drones replacing manned ag aircraft: “I don’t think it’s a threat. I think that it’s complimentary.”
(11:00) Reynolds, on the aerial application niche that drones fill: “Just those specialty locations where I’d like to think we’ve saved some lives already in some of the areas that are using unmanned aircraft. The rates per acre is really the key to this. A lot of the rates in California are 15 gallons per acre, and a drone’s only carrying 5 gallons or 10 gallons at the most. So you’re just never going to get the job done. So there’s no question the manned aircraft must stay; they will probably be here for my lifetime and maybe my kids’ lifetimes. But those specialty areas that are dangerous or very difficult to get to, [a drone is] absolutely the perfect solution. Trimming up edges of fields, near power lines—just eliminate that from the manned task and make everything safer. It’s just a terrific tool.”
(19:37) Moore, on the challenges of safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace: “You probably have 1 ½ million registered drones out there, 1 to 1 ½ million registered drones with the FAA. And you add another 600,000 manned aircraft—you have to have a safe airspace in which to operate. And one of the things that we’ve been pushing is to ensure always that an unmanned aircraft must give right of way to a manned aircraft. So whether that’s technology—having some sort of sense-and-avoid technology that requires that ... that’s fine. We don’t need someone to actually visually observe as long as it’s certified equipment by the FAA that shows that that sense-and-avoid equipment can actually sense and avoid a manned aircraft. So that’s something we’re pushing along with our other colleagues in … the manned aviation space.”
(28:13) Reynolds, on the need for drones to always give the right of way to manned aircraft, especially when manned and unmanned aircraft operations are occurring in the same low-altitude airspace: “I can only speak to the agricultural side of this and applications, and integrating these unmanned aircraft into the national airspace is a very high priority, and is the primary focus on every COA that’s submitted to the FAA. We are operating down below 80 feet no matter what we do. So we are mixed up with the Air Tractors and Thrushes and helicopters, and we absolutely agree with giving way to the manned aircraft. We have landed numerous times, and we communicate with aerial applicators that we’re going to be out in certain areas, and we file NOTAMs. So we cover the rules, and we back-check ourselves, and it has worked out well. We’ve never had any close incursion of any kind because of that.”
(35:10) Moore, on the evolution and integration of technologies in the aerial application sector: “I foresee, just like you mentioned the see-and-spray from [John] Deer, that you’ll have Mike’s technology going out [and] doing the initial reconnaissance and shortly thereafter, all that data is being fed to the broader fields; to our manned aerial applicators; into those tight areas to Bill’s drones to make those applications. … Definitely, before we celebrate the bicentennial of aerial application, that’s going to be happening.”
(43:08) Reynolds, on whether buying a drone to conduct spray missions makes sense money-wise: “If I’m gonna spend money to get more yield, how much do I have to spend, and what yield will I lose or gain? I guess that’s always the balance in agriculture. So, the investment into unmanned aircraft to get operational is not that tremendous. Typically contractors or people that are using unmanned aircraft are getting a revenue offset back within the first 12 months.”
Where to Watch or Listen to the Full Podcast Episode
Watch the May 22 episode of The Business of Agriculture Podcast in the video above or wherever you get your podcasts. The video version is also on Acres TV, and the audio version of the episode is available on SoundCloud.