Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge

Drone technology is hot, but it’s not working well yet for farmers. Want to change that? Enter the Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge. Read Overview...

The Problem

If necessity is the mother of invention, then farming is certainly one of her oldest children.  Farming practices in the US have soared beyond previous limits with cutting-edge precision software and machinery, and an unprecedented level of automation in the field. But don’t be fooled — there’s still plenty of room for an even more revolutionary breakthrough. And something “revolutionary” is exactly what the Drone Challenge is seeking.


What a Breakthrough Looks Like

Where do we go from here?  Drones have tremendous potential to be an eye in the sky for farmers; a tool like none other before that could revolutionize precision agriculture. Yet, a truly exceptional integration of aerial drone imagery and automation still doesn’t exist. As a result, there’s a huge opportunity for innovators to bring world-class imagery, smart tech, and scalable technology together in a groundbreaking solution for farms everywhere.


What You Can Do To Cause A Breakthrough

  • Read the complete challenge guidelines to see the rules and requirements for entry into the challenge.
  • “Accept Challenge” by clicking the orange button above to compete in the challenge. 
  • Follow the challenge above to be notified of any status updates to the challenge.
  • Share this challenge on social media using the icons above. Show your friends, your family, or anyone you know who has a passion for discovery.
  • Start a conversation in our Forum to join the conversation, ask questions or connect with other innovators.



The agricultural industry has a long history of adapting to changing conditions and using the latest innovations to support feeding a growing global population. Farmers deal with countless pressures and challenges such as increasing sustainability, maximizing yields to meet demand, maintaining margins, and managing water usage. Like other industries, agriculture is turning to data in order to make the best decisions possible. Farmers make thousands of decisions in a growing season and the more of those decisions supported by data the better. 

Farmers have always collected field data. This process can be as simple as walking through a field and making observations, but farmers are limited by time, data recording and the capabilities of analysis tools when making visual observations. A farmer simply can’t walk every row of crops to collect data.

More recently, precision agriculture has been enabled by the combination of satellites and precision machinery. Satellites recording multispectral images allow high throughput data collection showing plant health and field productivity in small field zones. This data, in conjunction with variable rate machinery connected to GPS, allows farmers to tailor field care to the specific needs of crops while increasing water efficiency, decreasing fertilization waste, and ultimately increasing crop yields. 

The next frontier of precision agriculture will be enabled with new, higher resolution data that can be captured on demand and independent of cloud cover, with very little human input. Many current precision agriculture drone and UAV solutions require a great deal of time and effort in the data collection and processing workflow. This greatly decreases the ability of farmers to tap into the benefits of this new technology space. That’s why there’s a huge opportunity for Land O’Lakes Prize innovators to bring world-class imagery, smart tech and true scalability together in a groundbreaking Solution for farms everywhere.

As a member-owned cooperative (many of which are farmers), Land O’Lakes is always looking for new ways to bring value to our members. We have provided thought leadership in the precision agriculture and satellite imaging space and have a number of tools available that provide value to farmers, like the R7® Tool by WinField.

Drones represent a prime example of a new technology that has the potential to provide even more valuable decision making data to farmers. Prospective changes to FAA regulations may offer a legal pathway for a truly autonomous and scalable drone Solution to transform a number of industries. We believe that combining world class imagery, automation, and scalability to achieve an all-encompassing precision agriculture Solution will create the value that will make a real difference in the field.

Updates 13

Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge Live Event Update

Oct. 31, 2017, 6:55 a.m. PDT by Paul Musille

Curious how the live demonstration event for the Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge turned out? 

Click here to read the Land O’Lakes press release about the event, or read the full text below:


Drones take flight for Land O'Lakes Prize

157 innovators from 47 countries take on the future of agricultural drone technology

Steven Landwehr doesn’t use drones on his 3,000-acre and 6,000-cow dairy operation…yet. Why? Drones are labor and time intensive. He doesn’t have the time to fly and manage the drone on his own, let alone analyze the data collected as it buzzes above his fields. But after hosting three finalists competing in the Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge at his farm earlier this fall, he’s optimistic about the future of drone technology.

In February when we launched the Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge, a crowdsourcing competition managed in connection with HeroX and with judging support from the University of Minnesota, we did so to accelerate the development of drone technology, making drones more usable for farmers like Steven.

With more than 157 competitors from 47 countries participating in the challenge, one thing is clear: there is energy and passion for innovating solutions that help farmers make more informed decisions for their operation.

“We felt we needed to help guide and encourage these innovators to help us solve the problems farmers face in the field,” says Mike Macrie, Land O’Lakes’ chief information officer. “Whether it’s weather, wind, battery life, autonomy or data collection, the challenges are a lot more complex than people think. I think our drone challenge helped demonstrate that.”

Drones take flight

On Sept. 20-22, judges from the University of Minnesota and ag tech experts from WinField United gathered at Westland Dairy, Steven’s operation, in Watkins, Minnesota, to assess the three finalists’ proposed solutions in a closed, live judging event spanning three farm fields.

First up? Sandhills Robotics, a robotics company whose team members drove 24 hours straight to Minnesota from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Their drone was developed to fly for 25 minutes and cover 200 acres using a multispectral camera to take images of the field. Those images then generate maps to help farmers understand their field’s stressors – insights that can ultimately help them increase yield. Sandhills Robotics even had the opportunity to showcase their drone on KARE 11–Twin Cities’ local NBC news affiliate.

​Traveling the furthest was CreateUAS, a team of 11 undergraduates–computer, software, electrical, and aerospace engineers–from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. With prior competing in medical drone technology challenges and once they caught wind of the Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge, they jumped at the opportunity to study the agriculture industry and learn how they could make an impact.

Our third team of finalists, American Robotics from Boston, Massachusetts, nearly met all of the criteria laid out for the challenge. This startup’s solution demonstrated abilities which include autonomous flight planning and data collection, autonomous charging, ruggedized housing, and precision navigation. As a result, they are set to unveil their product commercially before the end of 2017.

“It was interesting to see the technology and be a part of what’s coming out and soon to be available to farmers,” says Steven. “Being able to meet with the people that are developing the technology and helping to answer their questions about how drones can be more applicable to us was great. We’re excited about the autonomous aspect of drones. We want to get more precise, quality data to help us make better decisions about our fields on every square inch.”

In the end, no team met all the requirements of the challenge, but each finalist was awarded a $5,000 consolation prize in recognition of their contributions. As a member-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes understands the power of working together. After generating attention from competitors around the globe, we’re excited about the future of drone technology to advance agriculture intelligently, together.

“We’re excited that this challenge was really on the leading edge of what is capable with today’s technology. We think drones offer great opportunity for us and our members today. It’s an exciting area to be exploring,” says Mike. “Our WinField United team working with ag retailers are out there every day figuring out how to produce more with less and all of these technologies help our members be better in everything they do.”

Land O’Lakes, Inc. Announces Finalists for Drone Challenge

Sept. 25, 2017, 9:53 a.m. PDT by Paul Musille

See below for the text of a press release from Land O'Lakes announcing the finalists in the Drone Challenge:


Land O’Lakes Prize draws international competitors to make drones work better for farmers ARDEN HILLS, Minnesota (Sept. 21, 2017) –

Land O’Lakes, Inc. this week announced finalists for the Land O’Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge, a crowdsourcing competition launched in February 2017 to help surface valuable, user-friendly drone solutions that will help farmers make better decisions for their crops as they work to produce more food to feed more people.

More than 157 innovators from 47 countries entered the competition–managed through the HeroX platform, which democratizes the innovation model of XPRIZE that can lead to breakthrough innovation– that was designed to accelerate the development of drones for the ag industry.

“We’ve been a leader in deploying ag technology through our WinField United business. In the precision and decision agriculture and satellite imaging space, we have a number of tools available that provide value to farmers, like the R7® Tool by WinField and R7 Field Forecasting application,” said Mike Macrie, Land O’Lakes chief information officer. “We believe drones—with a few more years work and the right financial incentives, can be another useful tool in our farmers’ toolbox.”

Because today’s drone solutions require a great deal of time and effort in the data collection and processing workflows, the drone challenge innovators’ proposed solutions must limit the need for human involvement in field data collection, decrease the time needed to access crop imagery and improve the ability for a farmer to make decisions based on field health data.

Based on these criteria, judges from the University of Minnesota and WinField United ag tech experts selected three finalists to compete in a closed live judging event, demonstrating their proposed solutions in a field setting at Westland Dairy, Land O’Lakes member-owner, in Watkins, Minnesota on Sept. 20-22:

  • Sandhills Robotics, Fayetteville, North Carolina
  • CreateUAS, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • American Robotics, Boston, Massachusetts

A prize of $5,000 is guaranteed for finalists. If a finalist meets all requirements better than any other, they take home $140K. The winners, if any, will be announced in the days following the judging event and will retain intellectual property rights to the solutions they develop to help farmers use drone technology more effectively.

FINAL DAY to Submit!

Aug. 1, 2017, 5 a.m. PDT by Maureen Murtha

This is it, folks. Today is your final chance to submit your solution for the Land O'Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge. 

At 5:00 pm ET TODAY, we will no longer be accepting any entries to the challenge.

Got last-minute questions? Feel free to post directly on this update in the comments section, and we'll get to it as soon as possible. 


[ACTION REQUIRED] Three Days Left to Submit!

July 30, 2017, 4 a.m. PDT by Maureen Murtha

Your final deadline for submitting to the Land O'Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge is Tuesday, August 1st at 5:00 pm ET. This is your three-day warning! All entries must be completed and submitted by 5:00 pm ET on Tuesday, no exceptions. Be sure to get any files uploaded and your submission form saved well before the 5 pm deadline.  Occasionally, a high influx of people submitting can cause lags and result in an overall frustrating submission experience. Don't let it happen to you!

Remember, the early bird gets the worm! Leave your questions and comments right here on this update, in the comments section.


Good luck! 

Only Five Days Left to Submit - Four Tips to Make it Easier

July 28, 2017, 5 a.m. PDT by Maureen Murtha

Happy Friday! Don't forget, submissions to the Land O'Lakes Prize: Drone Challenge are due at exactly 5:00 pm ET on Tuesday, August 1st. That's next week! Don't delay in finishing up that submission, because we cannot accept anything received after the cutoff at 5 pm. 

Here are a couple of last-minute tips for a smooth entry process

1. Begin your submission process several days before the cutoff time. This allows you to ensure everything you have been working on can be seamlessly integrated into the form.

2. Your submission will not be reviewed until you click the orange "Submit Entry" button at the top of the final review page. Please remember to do this! 

3. Review the Challenge Guidelines to ensure your submission is complete. Pay particular attention to the judging criteria which will be the scorecard used to evaluate your entry.

4. Have any questions? Head over to the challenge forum and we would love to help you out. 

Good luck to all! 

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