In February 2019, we detailed how Corteva Agriscience deployed the largest agricultural drone fleet in the world to diagnose pest and product concerns, suggest locations for optimal crop placement, and evaluate agronomic tools. Globally, using 400+ drones equipped with DroneDeploy software, Corteva monitors fields, identifies variations in plant and soil health, and maximizes yield. Through trial and error, their full-scale drone operation runs like a machine - in less than 15 minutes, drone insights provide information on fields up to 160 acres. Since Corteva owns some of the most recognizable brands in agriculture (such as Pioneer, Brevant seeds, and Granular), aerial technology is essential to carrying out data-driven decisions. Over a year later, we check back in with the agriscience giant on how they’ve expanded their drone program after experiencing substantial challenges during COVID-19.
Eliminating Human Error with Drone Data
Many years ago, Corteva’s Research and Development team began testing drone hardware as a way to replace manual inspections and keep employees safe during periodic heatwaves. “We quickly realized that machines could perform these tasks better,” Eric Galdi, Agronomy Systems Manager, explained. “As you get into a routine at the end of the day, with additional weather challenges, the odds of collecting incorrect data skyrocket.” Eliminating human error was essential to the program’s success, and further research was performed on various cameras and sensors to find their perfect fit. Improving efficiency and saving time was paramount to their goals, and as this process developed and became vetted, customers took notice.
Corteva quickly pivoted their strategy to see how similar tools could be used in other areas of their organization - commercial sales and seed protection specifically. It was clear that customers loved the hands-off approach to data collection, and stakeholders appreciated the value it brought to their business. After running internal tests to pinpoint additional needs in these teams, Corteva determined that they would need drone software to optimize operations throughout the entire growing season. Ultimately, they selected DroneDeploy for its ease-of-use, minimal hardware requirements, and agriculture-specific features.
Developing a Drone Program with DroneDeploy
Before using DroneDeploy, Corteva set up regular training sessions to prepare employees for operating drone hardware. This was no easy task, as Corteva’s global reach generated extra work for the support staff researching local regulations in numerous countries. Regardless, explaining company policies, government rules and regulations, and general tips for achieving an optimal viewpoint are common discussion points in these meetings. As policies change, the sessions are updated with government and company guidelines. Even today, each employee who joins the UAS program needs to complete this training as the bare minimum requirement before flying for Corteva.
After implementing the drone software, Corteva worked closely with DroneDeploy’s Professional Services Team to develop DroneDeploy Academy training sessions that focused on gaining familiarity with the software and Corteva’s key use cases. As the primary contact for field teams in North America, Eric has worked hard at creating documentation, handouts, and powerpoints on best practices for the organization. Corteva has seen a massive increase in certified pilots since offering these services.
After establishing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Corteva scheduled bi-weekly software trainings that incorporated these best practices. Each session is held every other week, so individuals can attend when it’s convenient for them. During the virtual sessions, pilots ask DroneDeploy’s Enterprise Services Manager, Matt Lyon, their questions and share knowledge with one another. A typical training will host 50-100 people. This method ensures that all pilots within Corteva receive consistent messaging and know-how.
Adapting Drone Technology to COVID-19
Before COVID-19 hit, employee internal classroom and hands-on training sessions were a large-scale operation. In one day, 20-120 people would crowd into a rented arena or hotel conference space to learn directly from certified Corteva trainers on how to use DJI hardware and software. This method could not continue for obvious reasons, and Corteva had to bring many training aspects online.
“Immediately, the challenge was: how do we do this remotely without sacrificing quality?” Eric said. To keep a high level of certifications and proficiency, Corteva developed virtual training sessions in a “build” format to cover policy material and introduction to software the employees will utilize. The program broke what was typically done in half a day into smaller webinars to guide employees through the government and Corteva certification process. Occasionally, Corteva will host small, in-person sessions focussing on only completing the hands-on training portion with employees. To keep everyone safe, pilots bring their own hardware and practice CDC social distancing and Corteva COVID-19 guidelines to minimize exposure.
Through a series of downloadable webinars, Corteva has worked directly with the DroneDeploy team to adapt DroneDeploy Academy content into easily-digestible training videos for its users. Because of expanded accessibility online, Corteva can open up these sessions to 3rd-party contractors to bring the technology to another group of individuals who have contact with Corteva customers. While 3rd-party contractors do not receive the same level of hardware and policy training as employees, having Corteva employees and 3rd-party contractors utilize the same software like DroneDeploy allows Corteva customers to receive the same drone technology experience.
Quantifying Drone Program Success
ROI is difficult to quantify because of the wide range of consultants, 3rd-parties, growers, and more, associated with the organization. However, Eric offered this helpful anecdote - the total volume of support calls he’s received has gone down significantly since perfecting their training routine. Although it may not seem like much, the vast number of people Corteva adds to its drone program every year proves that their process works. With hundreds of pilots flying and on their platforms at one time, Eric is thrilled with the services they offer.
In the near future, Corteva plans on further simplifying their training processes with “quick links” that will enable viewers to jump to sections in pre-recorded sessions that discuss their chosen topic, like a post-call index. This will be beneficial to seasoned pilots looking for specific answers to their questions, or those just looking for a refresher course. Additionally, 1-2 minute step-by-step enablement videos are in the works in partnership with DroneDeploy.
Throughout their drone program’s tenure, Corteva has continued to innovate and establish itself as a leader in the space. We’re looking forward to seeing how Corteva’s drone program evolves in the coming year. If you’re interested in learning more about building your drone fleet, watch our webinar on proving the value of your drone program, or read our article about managing your drone operations team.