Spring is in full swing in our part of town, which means agriculture season has kicked off for many in the states, like our newest Industry Expert, Justin Metz of Bowles Farming Company in California.
Let’s give a warm welcome to our first Agriculture expert by learning a bit more about him.
What is your background and current role?
I originally was as a volunteer firefighter, went into law enforcement, and through life’s path I found my way to Morningstar, where I started off as a truck driver. Eventually, I got into the harvest and transplanting side of it and became a Research & Development mechanic. Danny, who worked with me at Morningstar at the time, jokingly said I’d be working with him in a year - and it turned out to be true. A year after Danny joined Bowles Farming Company, my position was eliminated. I joined Bowles Farming Company two weeks later, where I am now the Technology Integration Specialist.
My role was created specifically for me since the team needed someone to seek out new technologies that would help benefit the farm. I even helped write my own job description after I started.
How did you become involved in the drone industry?
My story is probably similar to everyone else’s. I bought a small drone from Walmart or Target and played with it for a few days. My actual professional drone experience came when I got hired at Bowles Farming. They said I needed to become a licensed pilot and get my Part 107. I studied videos on YouTube and passed the test with flying colors.
Bowles Farming Company had added their first drone around the end of 2015 and when Danny was hired he took on all the drone operations, I took over once I was hired.
How did Bowles Farming Company come across DroneDeploy?
Prior to me joining, or even Danny, Bowles Farming was already using DroneDeploy. Danny looked at other options and did a ton of research on available software though.
What was your biggest challenge when integrating drones at Bowles Farming?
The biggest challenge that I’ve had was probably getting the data to the right people and helping them understand how drone data is helping their jobs. People needed to understand that drones provide a quick turnaround compared to traditional methods.
You need to get buy-in from agronomists and show them the vision of what drones are actually capable of in terms of managing crop health and mapping. Being able to have a birdseye view and not having to wait multiple days is extremely crucial.
What is your biggest challenge now?
Scaling our drone program. There is currently only one licensed pilot on our team - me. We do have another pilot in training but we definitely need to bring on more licensed pilots to fly and cover more acreage.
What advice do you have for beginners?
Data management and cataloguing is super important. You need to have a structured database from the start. I force myself to stay on top of organizing all of my images and maps because it’s so easy to lose track when you have so many. It becomes very time consuming and frustrating, so do it right the first time.
What advice do you have for more experienced folks?
Grow your team! You definitely don’t want to be out in the field doing everything yourself all the time. It will help to have more pilots that are able to go fly within a few hours of a call. If you’re stretched out too thin then you won’t be able to have as many flights for when you need it.
For the ag industry, I would say talk to growers and agronomists often. Figure out what their needs and issues are, especially with agronomists. They’re the ones who will be using the information from drone maps on an actionable basis. Go to trainings and seminars and learn what the newest technologies are. I like seeing what the rest of the industry is doing and if its applicable we can offer our clientele new and emerging technologies as they become available.
That’s some sound advice, Justin! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with us. We hope many more of you put your drone to work out in the field this season.