GREELEY — Hiding in the shadow of the giant farming equipment at this year’s Colorado Farm Show in Greeley was something much smaller: an unmanned drone equipped with state-of-the-art imaging technology.
The drone can be used to take images of farmers’ fields and let them know what parts of their crops need fertilizer or pesticide. Normally, most farmers use piloted planes or satellite imagery to get information about their soil and crops.
But the cost of hiring a piloted plane is expensive, and the times satellites can view their fields do not always match a farmer’s needs.
Paying a drone operator to survey fields could be a cheaper alternative, but the drones are expensive.
The drones, built and offered by Sanborn Map Co. of Colorado Springs, cost more than $95,000 each to build, and the multispectral camera in a drone alone costs more than $100,000.
So how can the drone, which costs more than $200,000 in total, be more cost-effective?
Jeff Specht, a Sanborn consultant who publishes the Earth Imaging Journal, said the device itself is not for sale but Sanborn’s services are.
“The farmer wouldn’t buy this device. It is going to be a kind of subscription service where they pay to have us go out and gather necessary data for them,” Specht said.
The drone displayed at the farm show is the Leptron Avenger. The device is electric and can reach heights of more than 12,000 feet.
This is the first year the company has exhibited the drone at the Colorado Farm Show. They are not yet selling their service because the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t yet cleared the drones to fly.
The FAA is still testing drone technology at six different sites in the United States and developing research to safely integrate it.
Sanborn is at the farm show this year to get opinions of the farmers who would be interested in their services in the future.
Jason Caldwell, director of strategic operations for Sanborn, also speculated that drone technology could be used for other purposes in the future, such as fighting forest fires.
Read more: High-flying drones may offer a down-to-earth farm option – The Denver