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Drones in Agriculture: Undeniable Value and Plenty of Growth, But Not the Explosion Others Predict | Rural Radio Network

Drones in Agriculture: Undeniable Value and Plenty of Growth, But Not the Explosion Others Predict

LONDON,  — Agriculture was touted as one

of the first industries that would leverage the rapid development of

commercial-grade small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAVs) and

incorporate them into its practices. Early on, the use cases for an

aerial analytics platform were evident to drone solution providers,

farmers, and agronomists. As a result, large numbers of drone solution

providers have entered the market over the past 5 to 7 years, either

specializing in agricultural solutions or having it as part of their

wider portfolio in anticipation for explosive growth.

However, according to ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm

providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative

technologies, the explosive growth forecasted by others is hugely

over-estimated.  ABI Research’s projected revenue for sUAV

agricultural services is US$3.2 billion by 2025.

“ABI Research gives comparatively conservative estimates at the

valuation of the drone-ag market for many reasons, including an

increasingly consolidated market, and the actual needs of the farming

industry,” says Rian Whitton, Principal Analyst at ABI Research.

“The overenthusiasm and exaggeration in the early stages of the

industry should be subdued by the fact that drones are not the only

source of aerial imaging,” Whitton explains.  “Satellites and manned

aircraft have been providing similar services for years, and have some

identifiable advantages. This emphasizes a more important point that

the discussion really does not center on the hardware of drones, but

on the actionable insights that are garnered by data-gathering.” Where

this comes from is far less important that the solutions it provides,

and this is a key reason why so many companies in the vendor ecosystem

provide cloud-services and specialist software for analyzing different

vegetation indices.

ABI Research can predict that the short-term future will harbor

considerable change in the drone-agriculture ecosystem. The large

number of current vendors will likely be trimmed down into a more

consolidated market, as aerospace giants like Airbus and Boeing

further involve themselves in delivering commercial sUAV solutions.

Whitton continues, “As argued, the key resource in this market is not

the drone, but the data from the aerial imagery, and the ability to

gain predictive and prescriptive intelligence from that data. Drones

are but one of many platforms that can provide aerial imaging. For the

foreseeable forecast, one can expect drones to become more popular,

but manned aircraft and satellites will still play a critical role in

the aerial imaging market.”

There has been a history in farming of leasing technology. This is

because, despite being a historically enormous industry, agriculture

has been owned by a plurality of actors, most of whom lack the

necessary capital to buy and maintain in-house technological

solutions. With aerial imaging and analysis, you don’t only need the

hardware, operating system, and software to conduct the mission, you

also need to maintain the solution and derive insights from it.

In most cases, therefore, agricultural companies will shift capital

responsibility to the vendors, who will provide a service for aerial

imaging, analysis (predictive and prescriptive), and action (spraying

or planting. This should not be characterized as drones-as-a-service

(DaaS), given that many companies already providing this service are

using imagery from satellites or manned aircraft. Rather it would be

more accurate to call it aerial-imaging-as-a-service (AIaaS) including

data capture, prediction, prescription, and potentially action.

Within a small timeframe, the sUAV-Agriculture ecosystem has evolved

from a select number of hobbyists and drone manufacturers, to a

multi-billion-dollar industry that is now serviced by the world’s

largest aerospace giants. “Commentators, investors and onlookers

should not let the many caveats and the legitimate issue of industry

hype distract from what is an exciting technological and commercial

development for a key primary industry,” Whitton concludes.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Small Unmanned Aerial Systems

for Agriculture Applications report. This report is part of the

company’s Robotics, Automation & Intelligent Systems research service,

which includes research, data, and analyst insights.

About ABI Research

ABI Research provides strategic guidance for visionaries needing

market foresight on the most compelling transformative technologies,

which reshape workforces, identify holes in a market, create new

business models and drive new revenue streams. ABI’s own research

visionaries take stances early on those technologies, publishing

ground-breaking studies often years ahead of other technology advisory

firms. ABI analysts deliver their conclusions and recommendations in

easily and quickly absorbed formats to ensure proper context. Our

analysts strategically guide visionaries to take action now and

inspire their business to realize a bigger picture.

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