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How Drones Will Drastically Transform U.S. Agriculture, in One Chart


Robots are beginning to transform farming in the U.S., from autonomous mowing and plowing to so-called precision agriculture, a data-based approach to planting and harvesting crops. All told, the agricultural robot market is expected to grow to $16.3 billion by 2020 from $817 million in 2013, according to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research report.

And, the report says, one large segment of that market will be drones.

The agricultural drone market has the potential to generate an additional 100,000 jobs in the U.S. and $82 billion in economic activity between 2015 and 2025, according to the report.

With GoPro GPRO, -0.74% launching a drone in 2016 and drones hitting shelves at the Apple Store, consumer-targeted drones are taking off. But BofA Merrill Lynch anticipates that drones will see even more liftoff in the agriculture industry, predicting that 80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be dedicated to agriculture.

The report indicates that robots in the next 10 years could become the main workhorses powering farms, instead of people. Thermal imaging camera maker FLIR FLIR, -0.53% recently launched a camera specifically for drones that is intended to show farmers differences between healthy and distressed crops. The data collected can show farmers where to add or reduce water or pesticides, or help farmers determine when to harvest.

“People in the U.S. and EU no longer want to work on farms due to factors such as low farm incomes, its lack of reliability and seasonal nature, and its demanding and risky nature,” the report states. “Today, less than 1% of the U.S. population claims farming as an occupation – with the average number of U.S. farmworkers having declined from 3.4 million last century to 1 million today.”

Source: Sally French, MarketWatch

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