As technology advances, we find more efficient and cost-effective ways to get our jobs done, and farming is no exception. With the boom in unmanned aircraft technology, it’s no surprise that farmers have started applying these tools to fulfill their crop spraying needs. But like with all technologies, old and new, accidents can happen, so it’s important to pair this upgrade with the appropriate drone aerial application insurance.
What is Agricultural Drone Spraying?
Previously, many farmers would spray their crops with ground spraying devices that traveled across their fields, or by hiring a manned aircraft to spray their crops aerially. Although these are both still available options, a lot of farmers are turning to drones to spray their crops.
Benefits of Drone Spraying
With traditional ground sprayers or manned crop dusters, many factors can keep you from getting your crops sprayed in a timely manner. If the ground is too muddy, ground sprayers may get stuck or work less efficiently. There are a limited number of licensed pilots for crop dusters, meaning you may have to schedule spraying well in advance to get an appointment. With drones, it’s somewhat easier to get licensed, so there are more commercial sprayers available. You can also acquire your own drone and get licensed to fly it or dedicate an employee to do so. This makes it much easier to time the spraying of your fields just right.
Drones are also more fuel efficient. Most are electric or require very little fuel compared to manned aircraft. They do require charging or refueling more often, due to their size and relative capacity, but they also take less time to charge or refuel.
If you’re spraying uneven or oddly shaped fields, drones are also a better solution, as it is much easier to make minute corrections for altitude or tight turns. Where ground sprayers may get hung up on hilly, bumpy, or otherwise uneven fields, drones can coast right over them, maintaining the ideal altitude above the plants. Uneven ground may not be an issue for manned crop dusters, but these large aircraft have a much harder time maneuvering around oddly shaped sections of field, reducing efficiency in these areas.
A Few Minor Drawbacks
Existing users of drone sprayers do warn that the initial investment of both time and money can be a deterrent. The training and certifications involved in drone operation can take upwards of six months to complete. Depending on your state and local regulations, in order to fly a drone sprayer, you may need separate licenses for general drone piloting, aerial application, and pesticide application, with additional certifications for flying at night or with multiple units. You may also be required to complete an FAA physical exam, and apply for a weight exemption for drones over 55lbs. Even once you’ve completed all this, you likely won’t be flying at peak efficiency until you’ve had quite a bit of practice.
Still, many farmers and commercial drone pilots find this initial investment worth its long-term rewards. Farmers who put in the time and money find that they can save more money over time compared to hiring commercial drone pilots, while those who turn their drones into a business find they can make a good living working for farmers who can’t or don’t want to make that investment.
There is also some question as to whether drones provide as enough coverage compared to manned aircraft or ground sprayers, but the limited studies available have so far shown similar rates of disease and pests compared to previous methods. The likely reason is that drones create a vortex as they fly, which swirls around both the foliage and the droplets as they’re being dispersed, allowing the spray to get into the lower parts of the plants, providing better coverage.
To Hire or To Buy
For farmers interested in using unmanned aircraft for aerial application, the important question is whether to hire an outside drone pilot to conduct the application, or to purchase a drone and all necessary equipment themselves. This largely comes down to the type of investment you’re willing to make. Purchasing your own equipment requires a moderate initial financial investment, but it also takes a substantial amount of time. However, if you’re able to make those initial sacrifices, you can save money in the long run, as it often costs much less to operate your own drone than to hire a contractor.
On the other hand, there are some benefits to hiring out, as well. Commercial drone spraying pilots have already made that investment, meaning you can get started spraying right away. They’re often experienced, eliminating the learning curve involved in training yourself or an employee. By hiring an outside contractor, you also don’t have to worry about storing or maintaining the equipment. However, commercial pilots may charge substantially more than you would pay to do it yourself – up to ten times more, in some cases – largely because they’re covering a lot of the costs you’re not, including maintenance and insurance.
Just like there are insurance plans for your car, your house, and your life, there are insurance options to cover your drone spraying equipment. Companies like BWI provide peace of mind every time you fly, so you know you’re covered in the event of the unexpected.
Why Do You Need It?
Accidents can happen with any kind of technology, old or new, and if you’re not insured, those accidents can be costly. Even just the repair or replacement costs for your drone can be astronomical if you’re not covered. Depending on your coverage plan, your insurance may cover up to the full repair or replacement cost in the event of an accident. Furthermore, if your aircraft crashes or malfunctions while actively spraying a field, it may injure the crops, other equipment or property, or even another person. This can result in significant financial liability that you may be otherwise unable to cover.
What Does It Include?
Most drone insurance policies start with liability, which covers damage to property or persons resulting from a crash or malfunction. This is important to keep you from having to foot a nasty payout in the event of an accident. This is especially important for contractors who may be responsible for damaging a client’s property livelihood, or self
Your policy may also include what’s called hull coverage, which would cover the vehicle, its payload, and anything attached to it such as cameras, sensors, or other imaging devices. If the worst should happen, this would cover repairs, or even complete replacement of the drone or its equipment, up to your coverage limit. Hull coverage can vary, so make sure you choose an amount that would cover everything that might need to be replaced in the event of a total loss.
What Does It Cost?
Premiums for drone aerial application insurance varies depending on the value of your equipment, the insurance requirements of your job site, and the level of liability coverage included. Simple plans start as low as a few hundred dollars per year – a small investment for financial protection – with incremental increases as your coverage expands. Typically, additional premiums are calculated as a small percentage of the additional coverage. To determine your specific costs, you’ll need to talk to an agent and get an individualized quote based on your needs and risk factors.
If you’re interested in entering the commercial drone spraying industry, or if you’re already a pilot, it’s important to have the right insurance coverage. Contact BWI for a quote to get started or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org