Norm Lamothe is a Canadian entrepreneur with a wealth of aviation and agriculture experience. The manager of his family’s 500 acre farm in Ontario and a licensed fixed-wing pilot, Norm started Deveron UAS with his co-founders in 2015 after flying drones over his own crops and realising the potential of remote sensing.
1. Hello Norm. Can you start by telling us a little about your journey into the world of drones?
Hi, sure. I was originally introduced to unmanned aircraft by other farmers in the Ontario region. Although I have lots of aviation experience [in addition to being a qualified fixed-wing pilot Norm has held senior executive positions in aviation-related companies and ran a flight academy] I hadn’t used remote sensing at that point. I began by flying drones over our own fields and locally with progressive growers who were interested in remote sensing data. They became our launch customers.
It quickly became clear how accurate and timely drone data could help to better manage the inputs we were applying in the field. After those first learnings, in summer 2015 my phone didn’t stop ringing! I couldn’t realistically drive three hours each way to fly for everyone, so that’s when I started talking with Deveron UAS’ co-founder [David MacMillan] about commercialising such a service and building a licensed network of drone pilots that could bring the benefits of drone data to more farmers over a wider region.
Most growers don’t want to spend time collecting data—they just want the outputs that drones produce that can help them save money and produce more.
Most growers don’t want to spend the time collecting data—they just want the outputs that drones produce, to help them save money and produce more
What’s perfect about Deveron UAS for me personally is that the business lets me marry my two passions: progressive farming and aviation—we’re literally building a company that will take agronomy to new heights!
A Deveron UAS eBee takes flight:
— Aaron Stevanus (@aaron_stevanus) June 23, 2016
2. Tell us about one of your favorite or most challenging drone projects. Where and what was it? What made it stand out? What did you learn?
Our favourite drone projects are those where a discovery is made that we either didn’t know existed, or that we weren’t specifically looking for.
This happened with one of our growers this past season, where a serious equipment problem led to poor and inconsistent plant emergence, ultimately costing the grower yields and profits. The equipment had a design flaw, essentially leaving more residue in certain areas of the equipment’s pathway. The grower had no idea this was happening as it was not obvious to the naked eye.
Another exciting part of what we do every day is listening to what growers themselves bring to the table. Often times we’ll be contacted by a grower who has a problem or a challenge that we didn’t even know existed—something they are trying to solve to make their operation more profitable. We love challenges and finding solutions, using the latest sensors that are available on the marketplace. Sometimes they exist, sometimes they don’t. It keeps us thinking about how we can take this technology to the next level and it allows us to continue to develop and brainstorm how to solve the grower’s challenges with our analytics partners, companies that are focused on building software to interpret drone imagery.
We love challenges and finding solutions, using the latest sensors that are available on the marketplace
3. What impact would you say drone technology has had on your working life?
Things are exciting. We wake up every day wondering how we can bring this technology to growers and make a difference on the farm. Most farmers have seen a significant increase in input costs over the years, volatile crop prices and hence their margins have been squeezed. Our goal is to transform the way agriculture participants think about crop production and help growers increase yield and decrease costs using aerial imagery as a foundation for decision making and planning.
From a strictly farming angle, we are already seeing positive returns for the clients we work with, which include some of Ontario’s biggest cooperatives, which collectively manage 3.5 million acres. Whether it be the tangible analysis of things like drainage ditches and tiling, to helping growers build more efficient crop scouting workflow, we are seeing aerial imagery make a difference. As the technology continues to develop, especially on the data analytics side, we see the potential for sizable improvements in efficiency for growers in how they run their farms.
We are already seeing positive returns for the clients we work with, which include some of Ontario’s biggest cooperatives
For us, 2016 is solely about building relationships and credibility with growers across the province of Ontario, here in Canada. Drones are not necessarily new to agriculture, but the power of analytics and the improvements in sensors are parts of the technology that most growers are unfamiliar with. Being able to influence how decisions are made in such an important industry in Canada is an incredible opportunity.
4. What kind of role do you see drone technology playing in the future for companies such as yours? Can you imagine what your working life might look several years down the line?
Deveron UAS is strictly a drone service company, so our vision is directly tied into the continual expansion of licensed pilots and drones being made available for our network. Our goal is to build North America’s largest network of pilots and drones that can service the needs of a variety of verticals and applications. Whether it be farming, forestry or inspection services, we want to have the best drones, sensors and pilots available for data collection. Today this means operating three eBees carrying Parrot’s multispectral Sequoia camera, plus two smaller DJI quadcopters and another fixed-wing model from our operations in 2015.
Our team is directly focused on building out the value proposition for the 88 million acres of farmland managed by growers in Canada. We believe that by streamlining imagery workflow and producing actionable data for growers we can help spur adoption rates for farmers and show growers why there is value in remote sensing and imagery.
We believe that by streamlining imagery workflow and producing actionable data for growers we can help spur adoption rates for farmers and show growers why there is value in remote sensing and imagery
With respect to agriculture, we aren’t making any more farmland and margins are not getting better for growers as input costs, environmental concerns, and management of the soil over the longer term take centre stage. We see drone technology assisting in feeding a larger population of people around the world, by making farmers more efficient, producing more food on less land.
4. If you could give 3 tips to a budding dronepreneur of the future, what would they be?
- Standardisation matters. Clients with various needs across various geographical regions still want to have the same data.
- For agriculture, you need to manage the entire workflow. It is not good enough to fly a farmer’s field. Integration and actionable data is more important than another colourful map.
- Be more knowledgeable than anyone else. Anyone can buy a drone and learn to fly it—the value for an enterprise customer is understanding everything there is to know, about everything.
Great advice. Thanks for your time Norm!
Industries served: agriculture
Drones: senseFly eBees, DJI quadcopters
Software: Pix4Dmapper, DroneDeploy, MicaSense ATLAS
Avg. flights per month: 100
Total flight hours: 250 hours to date (predicted to rise to over 80,000 during 2016)
Dream robot: “We see drones as playing an active role as the “information gatherer” of the future,” says Lamothe. “The actionable data they gather will ultimately be transferred to a team of robots, which will then perform a variety of duties such as tissue and soil sampling, applications of fertiliser and nutrients, as well as providing solutions related to weed, pest and disease management”