Poor pig prices twenty years ago signalled the death knell for many in the sector and Holderness farmers were badly affected.
In Richard Dee’s case at Hatfield just out of Hornsea it brought about his agricultural demise having moved from Driffield in 1991. He had to sell up in 2003.
If someone had told him back then that his business would one day involve operating a camera in the sky while he was based on the ground he’d probably have uttered something along the lines of “and pigs might fly” but that’s exactly how his photography business has proved the sky is not just the limit and his new world since becoming a fully qualified drone pilot nearly three years ago.
“When I came out of farming, I went into the fruit business and had two shops in Filey and one in Scarborough for nine years. The photography was more of a hobby, but when I finished with the shops I started expanding my camera work by putting together photographic books for farmers and friends under the name Savour Dee’s Moments.
“I love going to the annual photography exhibition held at the NEC in Birmingham and three years ago I saw this guy in one corner of the venue flying a drone in a large netted area.
“I watched him for at least half an hour, taking in what it could do and how I could develop my business by taking photographs from the air.”
Richard qualified and began flying his first drone over farms, purely thinking it was adding another string to his bow with existing clients, but his phone started ringing with local gravel quarries, of which there are several between the River Hull and the Holderness coastline, enquiring about having the drone fly over stockpiles to help calculate the number of lorries required to shift product.
“The drone flown at 70 metres above the quarry flies a box pattern overhead staying at the same height throughout and then I send the images to San Francisco where they return as a sewn image. From there I visit the quarry managers, usually within 24 hours and, so long as I know the density of each product, I can calculate how many tonnes are in the pile.
“It is a highly accurate way of valuing stockpiles and extremely useful for spot checks and monthly, quarterly or annual inventory surveys. It saves both time and money for the quarries and allows for better logistics.”
Roofing surveys, agricultural insurance claims, pipework checks and solar panels have all come under Richard’s drone’s eye in the last 33 months that has seen his business fly just as much as his drone.
“The phone can ring at any time and with another new role for the drone that I haven’t even thought about,” says Richard. “Last year a local farmer lost a considerable amount of standing wheat at harvest when his new combine harvester caught fire. I was able to get over as soon as the call came to fly a grid over the damaged area so that he could make an accurate claim for the loss which ran to 35 acres.
“It is fast becoming a must-have for farms looking to pick out blackgrass and weak areas in fields while also being able to record field sizes and up-to-date pictures of how your farm looks on that day rather than a year ago.
“Where farms have set up solar panels, in some cases across many acres, the land can be mapped via the drone’s photography. I had one farmer who wanted the drone so that he could check levels on his field where he intended to dig out for new pipework along 450 metres.
“He wanted to know the slope of the pipe to put in. It really is a fabulous new management tool and ideal for land measurements and farm payment acreages.”
Richard is now in demand throughout the UK not just for agriculture and quarrymen but for another sector.
“Roofing surveys have been revolutionised by the capability of a drone. In years gone by roofing checks would have always involved a heavy cost purely to deliver and erect the scaffolding, let alone the services of roofing engineers.
“I’ve now gone from London and up into Scotland sending up the drone to check for faulty gutters, faulty roofs and cracked chimney pots. I’ve just completed a job providing the camera work via the drone for a big shed in Hull that is up for sale.”
One of Richard’s other passions is rugby union. He played for Driffield RUFC for over 20 years and Hornsea for eight years. He takes up his role as president of Driffield in three weeks’ time, but the players and supporters won’t be seeing his drone any time soon, unless they book it for their farm, business or wedding.
“I enjoy my rugby too much to be flying it around when there’s a game on,” says Richard. “There’s a time and a place for everything. I’m simply delighted with how Dee 4 Drones has taken off.”