Justin Metz is the Technology Integration Specialist for Bowles Farming Company. A 12,000-acre farm in Central California. His responsibilities include Veris soil mapping, variable rate applications, GPS systems, John Deere operations center management, Food Safety, and as an FAA Part 107, license holder, chief pilot for drone operations. Prior to Bowles Farming Company, he worked for California Sun Grower Services in several capacities from trucking, and tractor driver, to the research and development mechanic focusing on automating harvesting and transplant systems. We asked Justin some questions about drones in agriculture and how he first got involved. Here is what he had to say:

InterDrone: How did you get into the commercial drone space?

JM: I got into the Commercial Drone Space as part of my job duties here at Bowles Farming Company. I was told that I would be doing the farm’s drone flights and, “Oh, by the way, you need your Part 107 to do it, so let us know when you get it.” At that time Part 107 was still fairly new, not a lot, of course, was available, so after several hours of YouTube, I went to our local FAA test site and secured my 107. I began almost immediately mapping fields using DroneDeploy’s software. Our VP of Technology Danny Royer had a RedEdge multispectral sensor from MicaSense, gave it to Fernando Banda, our farm engineer, and me and said, here put this on there. We started exploring multispectral and the possibilities that lay before.

What are your thoughts on its (commercial drone industry) development so far? (Whether it be technologically, legally, or use cases.)

JM: I believe the drone development in the agricultural industry is still in its infancy. The basics are all there, but we are a long way away from eliminating a person in the field ground truthing that aerial data until we can have a trusted and reliable dataset that we can confidently make a decision on about our crops. If we make the wrong choice, we can lose our profit of $300.00 to $600.00USD per acre. If it’s a total loss, we could lose up to $1,000.00 per acre. With those numbers, our 12,000-acre farm that has been farming since 1858 may not be farming for much longer. With that, we need to have confidence that when we analyze a field and the data indicates we have a pest issue that it actually is that and can determine what pest it is, in addition to the severity of the pressure, to be able to write a recommendation for spraying the appropriate material. Then we will really be using drones for precision agriculture.

What do you envision the commercial drone space to look like a year from now? 5?

JM: I see the commercial drone space in a year to look, for the most part, much like today. Sure, we will have some progress in sensor capabilities, new ways to use a drone, and a larger group trying to enter the commercial drone space. We will see, if they make it to market, a battery-only-powered drone, capable of an hour plus flight time in high wind conditions, and a feasible spray drone, capable of carrying 20+ gallons of material.

In five years, I see BVLOS for agriculture more accessible, and basic crop issues ( Drought, Pest Pressure, Weed Pressure) easily identified.

If you had one “Wish list? item to have in/happen to the industry today, what would it be?

JM: My one “Wish List” item to happen in the industry today is Full Automation. Essentially, having true BVLOS. I want to be able to have several drone stations that remain on location, at our drip stations, that I can set a schedule to map a field. It would be able to make autonomous battery changes as needed, then upload that imagery for stitching, identify possible problem areas, and email the report to the necessary people. The frustrating part of this is that this technology currently exists and is being hampered by BVLOS regulations.

You”Ll be speaking at InterDrone this year. What is your topic? And aside from teaching all the attendees, what else are you most looking forward to at the show?

My Topics this year are:

How to Successfully Market Drone Services to a Farmer ? From a Farmer Who Uses Drone Technology

Providing Real-Time Imagery to Appropriate Personnel to Make an Informed Decision in the Field of the Situation

Using Drones for More Than Just NDVI on a Farm and

Panel: Drones in Precision Agriculture: An End-User’s Perspective.

I am looking forward to meeting with other industry persons and sharing our experiences, both good and bad, what works, what didn’t, and what’s on the horizon. Most enjoyable for me is meeting new people who share the same interests.

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