These days, precision farming dealers are downright giddy when it comes to talking about the potential unmanned aerial vehicles hold for agriculture. With each passing week, it seems more and more are partnering with UAV manufacturers to sell the technology.
At least two John Deere dealership groups in Wisconsin — Mid-State Equipment and Riesterer & Schnell began selling drone units through their precision farming business, and a UAV manufacturer representative recently told me they are teaming up with “dozens” of dealerships in the western part of the U.S. to sell their product.
“Who better to service, stock parts inventory and act as the centralized UAV equipment hub than the local precision ag equipment dealer,” the representative says.
Our current online poll asks dealers to classify the revenue potential they see with UAVs. So far, 75% of respondents say the sky will be the limit as far as sales and service of the technology.
But it will take more than a wing and prayer for dealers to get UAV revenue off the ground. While many view initial sales of drone units as a window to more lucrative service and aerial image processing packages, it’s critical that dealers are diligent in their preparation for carrying the technology.
Precision dealers and retailers researching partnerships with various UAV companies, admit that legal limitations and liability risk need to be understood before jumping in.
One of the initial concerns for an independent precision dealer in Ohio, when deciding how to incorporate drone sales into his business was insurance.
“Our general policy does not cover aircraft of any kind,” he notes. “However, our insurer says they felt that an 8 pound plane presents very limited risk, which is good news.”
The Ohio dealer was able to get a free rider on his dealership’s insurance policy to cover the $12,500 fixed-wing product they sell. However, he also notes that there is also concern over the legality of farmers flying drones, collecting field data and then using that information to make decisions, which benefit them financially.
While U.S. law regarding flight rules for drones is still evolving, Federal Aviation Admin. rules permit unrestricted noncommercial flights below 400 feet above ground level, in sparsely populated areas.
“Seems like we are sticking our necks out and I am sure it is one more thing manufacturers won’t like,” the Ohio dealer says.
To play it safe, he plans on selling the UAV units and teaming with a local co-op to fly the drones and collect aerial data for customers who don’t want to do it themselves. The dealer will then process the aerial imagery for customers, for free.
“Right now, if we could charge for the service and it was legal, we’d promote the heck out of it,” he says. “Ultimately, this is where we want to be.”