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Could a drone service benefit you and your daughter?

Tom J Bechman drone hovering over field
DRONE OR DAUGHTER? Separate whether you’re interested in paying for drone scouting or helping your daughter earn income before you support her decision to buy a drone.
Profit Planners: Keep family and business decisions as separate as possible.

My daughter lives nearby. Her husband works off-the-farm. She wants extra income. She says if we will pay a fair price per acre, she will get her license and buy a drone to fly all our fields. We haven’t scouted much before. We farm 2,700 acres. What would be a fair price per acre? Should we buy the drone and software and just pay her per hour? If so, what would be fair?

The Profit Panel members include David Erickson, farmer, Altona, Ill.; Mark Evans, Purdue University Extension educator, Putnam County, Ind.; Jim Luzar, former Extension educator and landowner, Greencastle, Ind., and Steve Myers, farm manager, Busey Ag Resources, Le Roy, Ill.

Erickson: You have a lot going on here that I am not sure I can help you with. Do you currently have your fields scouted? Who does the scouting and what does it cost?  Has your daughter considered part-time employment with an area ag retailer that provides such services or is looking to expand? You need to put a value on what this service can bring to your business. Many ag retailers, including seed companies, may provide a limited amount of scouting as a benefit for using their products. You and your daughter need to discuss these issues and determine what works best for both. 

Evans: It seems you want to analyze whether you would be better off to pay for the drone/software with your daughter acting as a consultant or let her start her own business. Especially since this is your daughter, if she has this interest, a setup with her purchasing the drone, and potentially expanding beyond your operation, should be an opportunity that you should be proud to encourage. While it is understandable you aren’t wanting to write your daughter a blank check, most areas already have access to consultants who would give you estimates for scouting. This would give you a good fair market value and will also help your daughter decide from a business plan standpoint if she can move forward. If she cannot compete based on services already available, she needs to take her steps carefully.

Luzar: My feeling about what is fair involves rewarding resources with a market return. This means your daughter should generate fees that other crop consultants charge for basic photography. The cost of service should approximate what crop consultants charge. If crop diagnostics have not been a priority in the past, how much return will this service provide? Keep family separate from business. If you purchase equipment, who decides on upgrades to more expensive equipment? Encourage your daughter to pursue her idea by offering to become a client on acreage that could benefit most from drone scouting. Allowing her to develop her own business allows her to chart her business path.

Myers: Good news in that drone prices are economical and training courses have become more convenient and cheaper. The equitable solution may lie somewhere between a commercial rate from an outside provider, doing it yourself or not at all. There are several good things one can learn from drone data, but what value is that information to you? Perhaps have your daughter make a “pitch” to you as to the viability of her services in terms of return. She is the one asking for business. 

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