Wisconsin farm equipment dealership to sell UAVs with eye toward offering service packages in the future. 

As interest in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) usage in agriculture continues to rise, precision industry professionals cite the opportunity for farm equipment dealers to deliver the technology to customers.

One dealership looking to capitalize on the potential is Mid-State Equipment, based in Janesville, Wis. The John Deere dealership network is partnering with Wisconsin-based UAV manufacturer DMZ Aerial, to distribute quad-copter crop scouting drones in late 2013.

It’s something fun and neat, but these can also provide real value to customers,” says Phil Moskal, Mid-State’s integrated solutions manager. “As the only ones in the area selling these, being first is important when you are talking about technology.”

Moskal says he’s had preliminary discussions with larger farmers about UAV use and his initial goal will be to target existing customers who are good candidates for drones. While aerial crop-scouting will be a major selling point, drones can also be used to identify waterholes in fields that are flooded out, or depending on the type of camera mounted on the unit, may be able to capture the greenness of a leaf or identify bugs.

“Another customer I talked with said he could run it up the grain leg to see if everything is working at the top, instead of climbing up to find out if he needs a new belt,” Moskal says. “As he told me, ‘Grain legs are not getting any shorter and I’m not getting any younger,’ so this technology has a lot of potential value for him.”

But a secondary motivation for selling drones, Moskal says, will be to leverage them as conversation-starters with customers to discuss other precision possibilities. This fall, he will be taking a demonstration unit from DMZ on the road to showcase the product and give customers a hands-on experience with the technology.

DMZ Aerial
DMZ Aerial in red

“It’s something that if you can get it in a farmer’s hands, he’ll be more likely to buy it,” he says. “If they’re not comfortable flying a quarter mile down the field, we’ll have them fly within 50-100 feet.

“They are small enough drones, 2 feet by 2 feet, that even if they crash, it’s not $10,000 to fix. A cracked propeller is only about $20 to replace.”

Mid-State plans to sell the drones for $6,500-$7,000, but won’t stock the units, at least initially. The market for UAVs is still developing, and Moskal says he expects to only sell “a handful” of units.

As much interest as there is in drones, there are also lingering questions about how extensively they can currently be used in agriculture. At this point, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t allow UAVs to be flown in national airspace, but new regulations could be in place by 2015, say industry experts.

Breaking into the drone market now and promoting the products to customers, lays the foundation for growth in the future, Moskal says.

“Once those FAA regulations come down, our plan is to offer a service package with the sale of the unit because we’ll have been out there in the market for a year or two,” he says. “We’ll have more real world experience than most dealerships that will get into the game when the rules come out or 2 years down the road because customers are demanding it.”