Drone Mapping Saves €150,000 in Purchase of Private Forestry
Green Belt uses DroneDeploy to assess timber quality and renegotiate sale price of forest land
When a private forestry management company sets out to help a client purchase a large plot of land, the stakes are high. With asking prices in the millions, it is crucial for buyers to know exactly what they are getting into before making a purchase. Drone mapping provides forestry management companies with the tools to accurately assess timber volume and quality and help their clients make informed purchasing decisions.
The following case study was provided by Maurice Ryan, Timber Marketing Manager at Green Belt, a private forestry management company located in County Cavan, Ireland. The company establishes and manages private forestry estates for landowners across the country. Ryan has been in the industry for nearly ten years. During his time at Green Belt, he has played a role in all aspects of the forestry management process including sourcing, crop health maintenance and the sale of harvested timber.
Green Belt began incorporating aerial imagery into their business in January of 2016. Finding that their clients required a higher level of detailed information than manual ground mapping could provide, they set out to fill in the gaps using drone technology. As is illustrated in the following case study, drones have made a world of difference, saving both the company and their clients a great amount of time, money and labor.
Aerial Imagery Creates Complete Picture of Forest
Earlier this year, Green Belt was tasked with sourcing forestry for a private, international client. Once purchased, the company will go on to manage the land. After an initial search, Maurice Ryan and his team located a property in the west of Ireland that, at least on paper, looked like an opportunity worth pursuing. The sale description listed the plot at just over 190 acres, with 180 of those acres being viable forest. The team’s challenge was to make sure the quality and volume of the timber matched the description and justified the sale price. In this case, because the client was not located in Ireland and had not seen any part of the land in person, providing the most complete picture possible was especially important. “I was trying to see it from the eyes of a person who had never seen the forest before,” says Ryan.
After taking an initial walk around sections of the property, the team decided it had good potential, so they set out to get a closer look by mapping the entire area. Using his DJI Phantom 3, Ryan mapped the forest in four flights, each lasting approximately 15 minutes. As is often the case in the west of Ireland, a strong breeze coming off the Atlantic impacted battery life. He flew at an altitude of 100 meters (about 328 feet), with good light and minimal cloud cover.
As they set out to assess the land, the team relied heavily on the orthomosaic and plant health maps created in DroneDeploy. Ryan finds 3D maps less useful for his clients, but he admits that a screenshot of a 3D map does have a certain ‘wow’ factor. “We often take a screenshot of the 3D map and use it to open a presentation,” says Ryan. “It’s an impressive picture.”
DroneDeploy Provides High-Quality Data for Land Assessment
When one of Green Belt’s clients sets out to make a high-value forestry purchase, they need to make sure they are getting what they pay for. This requires collecting a great deal of data about the site. Land boundaries change over time, as does timber volume and quality. Sale descriptions do not always give an accurate, up-to-date picture of these factors, so verifying them in real time is critical. Says Ryan, “The client wants to make sure they are making a decision clearly, not buying just for the sake of buying.”
Prior to using drone mapping, the data-gathering process for Ryan’s team was complex and labor intensive. To begin, their in-house GIS team would use externally generated satellite imagery to generate detailed maps of plantations. Although the GIS team did their best to deliver a quality product, their mapping was only as good as the reach of the satellite imagery. The resulting data was often out-of-date and low quality, requiring Ryan’s team to manually ground map large swaths of land in order to gather all of the information they needed. Not only was this manual land mapping labor intensive, but Ryan notes that it was less objective, as well as less precise, than aerial mapping.
Now, using aerial imagery combined with DroneDeploy’s suite of tools, the team is able to easily assess the volume and quality of timber in a given plot. In the case of this sale, they had been advised that some timber had already reached maximum value and been clearfelled. Getting an accurate idea of the extent and volume of this clearfell was important in order to help determine the worth of the remaining forestry.
Using a combination of the orthomosaic and plant health maps, they determined that more timber had been clearfelled than originally thought, and some additional damage had occurred in the process. The plant health map also helped them assess areas of stronger and weaker tree growth. Going one step further, they used the 3D map to zoom in and remotely assess the quality of specific trees. “The maps provide a lot of information if you spend time with them,” says Ryan. “The more time I spend with my DroneDeploy app, the more useful information I discover.”
“The more time I spend with my DroneDeploy app, the more useful information I discover,” says Ryan. [click to tweet]
The plant health map also gave the team a tool that they could use to present a clear picture to their client. Says Ryan, “It’s easy to explain that green is good and red is bad. Everyone understands this.”
Armed with the information they had gathered from their maps, the team then set out on foot to manually plot some of the trees. However, unlike the sweeping, labor-intensive process they previously employed, this ground mapping effort was relatively quick. Data from their drone maps allowed them to focus their efforts on very specific areas, and the information they gathered on the ground was primarily used as a means to back up what they had already gathered aerially.
Combining ground-truthing with aerial imagery allowed the team to gather a complete picture of the weak and strong points in the crop. Assisted by DroneDeploy’s area measurement tool, the team was ultimately able to determine that the area of viable forest was just over 165 acres, as opposed to the 180 acres listed on the sale documents.
Drone Mapping Means Big-Ticket Savings for Forestry Purchase
Because their ground mapping efforts were so focused, the team reduced on-the-ground time by a full fifty percent. Factoring in the extra time it took to fly the drones and compile the maps, Ryan estimates their entire data collection process was still reduced by a full day. He was also able to reduce manpower by using a team of two throughout the process, as opposed to the three or even four-person team previously needed for labor-intensive ground work.
But the ultimate big-ticket savings came for Green Belt’s client. By running all of their new data through industry software that is used for pricing and future projections, Ryan’s team generated a new estimate of the property’s worth.
In the end, they helped negotiate a full 10% off of the original sale price, saving their client €150,000.
By gathering highly detailed, real-time information about both timber volume and health, aerial mapping creates a complete, accurate picture of a forest plot’s sale value. A streamlined data collection process saves both time and manpower and arms a forestry management company with the information they need to help a client negotiate a fair price in a high-value sale.
Where to Learn More
To learn more about mapping large areas such as the one described in this case study, be sure to read How to Map Large Areas: A Workflow for the Commercial Drone Industry, recently shared by Eric Harkins of Back Forty Aerial Solutions.
You can also explore our support documentation to learn more about how to use some of the tools discussed above, including:
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