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Transforming Agriculture: Insights from Futurology and FarmFleet at the Aerium Summit 


Futurology and FarmFleet took a leading role in the Aerium Summit, held from May 28-30, 2024, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA, where the transformative power of drone technology in agriculture was a key focus. The event showcased the rapid advancements in unmanned technologies, which have become essential for enhancing productivity and scaling operations in the agricultural sector. The integration of scientific research and practical robotics applications was highlighted as crucial for effective drone technology utilization, fostering industry growth and bolstering food security on a global scale.
Sharing the stage with notable figures such as Austin Davis, Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, and leadership from Lockheed Martin, Futurology and FarmFleet emphasized its commitment to advancing agricultural technology. The event featured a panel discussion on Drones in Agriculture, where Valerii Iakovenko, CEO and managing partner of Futurology and FarmFleet, and Chairman of the Agricultural Committee of the Pennsylvania Drone Association, provided deep market insights and visionary perspectives on the future of drones and robotics in agriculture.

During the pivotal panel discussion on Drones in Agriculture, Valerii Iakovenko, CEO and managing partner of Futurology and FarmFleet, and Chairman of the Agricultural Committee of the Pennsylvania Drone Association, shared his deep market expertise and visionary insights. Iakovenko emphasized the transformative impact of drone technology on the agricultural sector, noting how drones have evolved from simple monitoring tools to essential instruments for active agricultural tasks, such as delivering pesticides and managing crops with precision. He highlighted the rapid adoption of drone technology in agriculture, driven by the industry's need for efficiency and sustainability.
"10 years ago in our flagship business, DroneUA, we started using drones to monitor crops, find areas of abnormalities, and map fields. We began creating impressive projects, including one that involved mapping a total area of around 300,000 acres in six weeks. This was an extremely interesting project, and it led to more similar projects", Iakovenko shared.
Four years ago, drones evolved from tools for analyzing problems to instruments that could interact with fields, delivering pesticides and replacing traditional methods of application. "This experience taught us how to use less water and save fuel. The most important part was being able to enter fields and do jobs that were otherwise impossible. For example, after rain, it was essential to spray fungicides immediately to prevent crop damage. We realized the high demand for these jobs."
Elaborating on the International experience, he explained how, due to the lack of regulation and the openness of Ukrainian farmers to innovation, the market exploded. "In a short time, Ukraine became the largest market for agrotech technologies in Europe. All other European countries combined were smaller in terms of robotics applications in farming. We started competing globally, including with Brazil, by optimizing supply chains to bring more robots to Ukraine. Despite the war, we continued to analyze the economic impact of drones. For example, spraying pesticides on sunflowers increased yields by up to 10%, and we calculated that using a single technological operation on canola could add $49 per acre in value".

Iakovenko's insights underscored the industry's rapid transformation. "We have built an ecosystem with hundreds of drones and thousands of operators in Ukraine, successfully providing services and technology to Ukrainian farmers. Today, we are expanding this experience to the United States, aiming to bring valuable insights back to Ukraine and vice versa."

"The industry is changing. Farmers are getting younger, and their children are bringing advanced experiences from other industries," Iakovenko observed. "High-tech equipment is increasingly being provided as a service, leading to a shift in farmers' behavior from owning equipment to acquiring services. We realized the high demand for these jobs," he noted, explaining that this new model not only increases yields and reduces environmental impact but also creates thousands of jobs for the younger generation in robotics and agriculture.

He provided a broad market evaluation, pointing out that the openness to innovation has propelled significant growth in agrotech technologies, making certain regions leaders in the field. "Understanding the market size is crucial," he said. "Rough calculations suggest that there could be 150,000 remote drone operators just in the US agriculture within the next 2-3 years." This, he predicted, marks just the beginning of a technological revolution that will see drones and robotics further revolutionize farming practices.

The American agriculturalists echoed Valerii’s thoughts. Caleb Swartz, a farmer and drone enthusiast from Pennsylvania discussed the practical applications of drones on his family farm in Bloomsburg highlighting the enhanced precision and efficiency brought by drones. He emphasized the affordability and effectiveness of drones compared to traditional terrestrial applicators, noting that ground rigs cost several hundred thousand dollars, whereas drones are more affordable and can operate almost as effectively without maintenance issues. Caleb’s experience demonstrated how drones have become an integral part of modern farming practices, offering solutions that traditional methods cannot match.

Dr. Shirin Ghatrehsamani, an Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Pennsylvania State University, specializing in precision agriculture and UAV applications, provided insights into the research applications of drones in agriculture, explaining how drones equipped with sensors like hyperspectral, multispectral, thermal, and LiDAR provide detailed information for making informed decisions. She highlighted how drones help in measuring soil conditions, yield, and detecting diseases, thereby improving field management and decision-making. Dr. Shirin shared examples such as using drones to detect frost damage and measure soil acidification, which are critical for maintaining crop health and optimizing agricultural practices.

Nicholas P. Matlock, an Aviation Safety Inspector within the General Aviation and Commercial Branch of the Emerging Technologies Division - AFS-752, represented the regulatory perspective at the panel. He shed light on the regulatory frameworks governing drone applications in agriculture. Nicholas discussed the streamlined process for obtaining a Part 137 operator certificate and emphasized the importance of compliance with FAA regulations. He explained that using FAA order 8000.659, the application process has become quicker, enabling operators to receive their certificates within a month if all paperwork is in order. He stressed the need for operators to comply with the specific conditions and limitations of their exemptions to ensure safe and legal drone operations.

The discussion also delved into the future prospects of drone technology in agriculture. John G. Duesler Jr., the President of the PA Drone Association and panel moderator, highlighted the growing interest in drones among students and the potential for drones to revolutionize various industries. He noted that Pennsylvania is slowly but surely creating a drone economy. Valerii Iakovenko emphasized the explosive growth of drone applications, predicting that there could be 150,000 remote drone operators in US agriculture within the next 2-3 years, marking just the beginning of this technological revolution.

The panel discussion was initiated and coordinated by the Agricultural Committee of the PA Drone Association, aiming to advance drone applications within the agricultural sector. This initiative aligns with the strategic goals delineated in Pennsylvania's recently released 10-Year Statewide Economic Development Strategy, endorsed by Governor Shapiro early in 2024. This strategy underscores the crucial contributions of agriculture and robotics to the state's economic advancement.

The Aerium Summit, now in its second consecutive year, serves as a nexus for exploring aviation technologies, fostering innovative opportunities, and facilitating idea exchange among experts, scientists, businessmen, and students. It brings together like-minded individuals dedicated to advancing industry development and leveraging technology for agricultural progress. Participation of Futurology in this year’s Summit marks a significant moment, as the company establishes strategic partnerships with the US industry leaders, shaping the future of innovative technologies globally.

The insights shared at the summit provide a roadmap for the future of agricultural innovation. We encourage all interested parties to join the PA Drone Association Agricultural Committee to stay engaged with the latest developments and participate in upcoming events.