Data shows more farmers are trading in tractors for drones

Agriculture drones are helping farmers simultaneously increase crop yields and reduce costs.

Data shows more farmers are trading in tractors for drones
Scripps News

Spring is here, and more farmers across the U.S. expect to use drones to increase crop yields. 

Jim Fry is a sixth-generation farmer who recently learned about the use of agriculture drones in a pest management workshop.

"Instead of applying an entire field for one pest, if you have an area with just a small amount of weeds or a small amount of bugs, we can use the drone just to target those areas," Fry said.

He says he was convinced to transition from a tractor to the drone because of it benefits.

"Reduction in emissions, not having to run tractors and sprayers on fields, reduced compaction for crops that hurts crop growth and production and yields, better efficiency when it comes to applying sprays when using drones," Fry said.

A Hylio agriculture spray drone

How drones are changing the landscape in agriculture

The technology is fairly new to the U.S., but drones have been used in agriculture overseas for decades.


CEO Arthur Erickson of agriculture drone company Hylio says farmers can use the drones for many different purposes.

"So your herbicides and your fungicides are very popular, but to a certain extent, insecticides as well," Erickson said. "Seeding — so people will seed-cover crops using the drones. There's a granular spreader attachment that lets you shoot up pellets or seeds. There's ant bait, there's mosquito killer stuff."

The idea is that this technology can help farmers simultaneously increase crop yields and reduce costs. For some farmers, the drone can replace a tractor. While a mid-sized tractor can cost $500,000, a drone that does the same thing can cost about $150,000. 

Erickson says more and more farmers are catching on.

"Since we started selling it, we have doubled our sales year over year, practically, up to this point," Erickson said. 

Tractor on a corn farm

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When considering all the agriculture drone companies, Erickson estimates there were fewer than 500 agricultural drones in the U.S. five years ago. Now, he would put that number between 30,000 and 40,000. Industry experts expect that growth to continue.

A report published in January shares the Global Agriculture Drones Market reached 2.6 billion in 2022, and is projected to reach 20 billion by 2030.

Justin Anderson, who flies agriculture drones, says such rapid growth comes with its challenges.

"Chemical manufacturers aren't yet labeling applications for drones," Anderson said. "So, we're we're using a lot of standards and procedures in place for, say, an airplane, which is a much different mechanism."

Anderson says he hopes the industry becomes more standardized in the coming years. For now, Fry says the reduction in cost has been nice, and he hopes that can also reduce costs for people who buy food at the grocery store.

"Reducing costs for the farmer, yeah, that means we don't have to charge as much for our product," Fry said. "So, any time we can save money, the more the consumer can save money."

Fry has done the math and says an agriculture drone is saving him big money.