LIVERPOOL, NY — Cazenovia Equipment, a farm equipment dealership in central and northern New York, isn’t waiting for farmers to catch up with technology — it’s already pushing the envelope in that direction.
Cazenovia Equipment began promoting and demonstrating unmanned aerial vehicles or drones for agricultural use at various trade shows in 2014. It has purchased four UAVs from Precision Drone, an Indiana company.
Cazenovia Equipment’s website has a special section devoted to the UAVs. It sells three different Precision Drone models, all helicopter-style (hexacopters) that have six rotors.
“There’s a lot of interest,” said Erik Haas. “They will be a big thing. They’re a really great tool. They can be used by utility companies and for fire and safety. We’re ready to get our feet wet. We want to make sure we are out front.”
A Cazenovia Equipment division, Cazenovia Energy Company (CEC), which sells, installs and services wind turbines and solar energy equipment purchased a drone to monitor its turbines, Haas said.
Because there is no demand for UAVs yet, Cazenovia Equipment had to purchase the drones from Precision Drone and is working hard to promote their use. Haas added, “We will wait at least another year before we consider leasing the drones to farmers. The barrier now is the FAA. Producers don’t want to invest until they know the regulations.”
A farmer does not need a special exemption to use a UAV for mapping his or her own farmland. They still need to adhere to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines, keeping the vehicle in sight and flying it under 400 feet. However, if the farmer decides to alter the terrain or crops based on the results of the survey, it’s considered a commercial use of the drone and right now, it’s not permitted by the FAA.
“If I were a farmer, I would use a drone,” commented John Johnson, executive director of The Technology Farm, a business incubator in Geneva.
“They would be most effective for surveillance to determine moisture levels and irrigation (patterns). There are so many opportunities. I predict that in 10 years, almost every major farm will have a drone or use a drone service for data analysis and then the cost will drop like a stone. That’s the history of technology.”
The Technology Farm is not an actual farm, rather a small, not-for-profit, certified business facility located on 72 acres at the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park and operated independently of Cornell University. It was started 10 years ago.
The startup companies at The Technology Park are all involved in the food and beverage industry, which includes biotechnology and food science research.
“I provide space and mentors to address the challenges of starting a business,” said Johnson, who grew up on a farm in Illinois. In addition to providing office space and light production facilities, the farm helps companies identify financing opportunities and potential investors and offers access to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Cornell.
Now the campus is constructing The Finger Lakes Community College Viticulture Building, which will provide academic and research support and train students for careers in the food and beverage industry.