Drones were introduced as the pinnacle of innovation that would change the agricultural industry. But with many retailers struggling to sell drones or Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs), what is the real ROI?

UAVs are able to capture photos and information about fields that would be nearly impossible on the ground. These hovercrafts can be equipped with cameras and even infrared sensors.

However, there are 3 challenges with UAVs that can cloud the true value of the technology: upfront cost, operation and maintenance and data overload.

UAVs become expensive fast. Dealers can alleviate sticker shock for growers by introducing entry level models like the DJI Phantom. Dealers can also suggest ways that growers can use their drones to make money on the side.        

“Use drones for local events and sell picture to your friends, tractor and truck pulling, fairs, festivals and more,” says Adam Gittins, general manager of HTS Ag in Harlan, Iowa.

When growers begin to see the investment paying off, they’re more likely to come back to your dealership for upgrades. Overall, the upfront investment growers should make “depends on what the farmer’s goal is and what he wants to get from it,” says Gittins.

Operation and maintenance can be intimidating for first-time drone users. Dealers can make more money on the support services and packages after the actual sale. This would include setting the drone up on site, helping the producers through the initial learning process and teaching them how to fly.

Dealers can also choose to assist growers in obtaining their Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 drone registration, which is required to operate UAVs.

Data overload is common when growers start using UAVs for the first time. Images alone can provide large amounts of potentially useful data. However, more often than not, there’s so much data it ends up being useless.

“If you can’t create any useable data, then drones are out of the question,” said Gary Mach from Lone Star Agronomics in Abbott, Texas.

Dealers also offer a few short-term suggestions to gain usable data from UAVs. Abnormalities, such as iron deficiency, can be identified using images from a drone. UAVs tend to capture a better picture of the field than observing the perimeter can achieve. 

For a higher entry level price, infrared cameras on drones can be used to scout feedlots and find sick cows using heat sensors.

The future of drones remains cloudy, but experienced dealers suggest now is the time position yourself as a trusted advisor and industry expert on UAVs to see true ROI from drone sales.