Written by Dennis Bowman
Wednesday, 14 August 2013 00:00
By Dennis Bowman, University of Illinois Extension educator
I just got back from the 2013 InfoAg conference. I freely admit that I am a tech-geek. This is one of my favorite meetings as it combines my favorite things — farming and technology. Precision agriculture practitioners from across the country and even internationally were in Springfield, Illinois last week for three days of seminars on the latest uses of technology in agriculture.
There was a huge interest in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), sometimes referred to as drones. At the last conference, two years ago, the topic was hardly noticed. This year’s sessions on UAVs were standing room only and there were five booths in the trade show with “drones” on display. An industry trade group representing the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) was also present in the exhibit hall.
The word “drones” brings to mind negative images for many. Spying and hellfire missile strikes may come to mind. However, in agriculture, UAVs, or drones, may be an incredibly useful tool. I have been working with satellite and aerial images of crop fields for over a decade. Cost and timeliness have been major drawbacks to integrating this technology in the crop decision-making and problem-solving process.
Imagine starting your day by checking the weather then launching a drone that flies a programmed low altitude route over your farm before sitting down in your office with a cup of coffee to review images of your fields, high resolution, normal light or in infra-red to show plant stress. This sounds amazing to me. In my younger days as a crop scout I scouted a lot of acres of pollenating corn fields. Walking through sweltering heat covered in corn pollen was an important activity but not anywhere near fun in my book. A quick drone over-flight could pinpoint areas that really need to be ground checked. I also imagine a hail adjuster showing up at a potential claim and with the farmer’s permission launching a drone over the area to accurately evaluate the extent of the damage and improve the claim process.
One of the presentations was from the AUVSI Executive Vice-President, Gretchen West. She showed results from a recent industry study that indicated agriculture is expected to take over 80 percent of the drone market in the United States. They estimate that the UAV industry will create 70,000 jobs and generate $13.6 billion dollars in the US economy in the first three years of drone adoption.
Unfortunately, while agricultural adoption of UAVs is happening rapidly around the world, the political climate in the U.S. has delayed their use here. Currently, FAA rules allow individuals and hobbyists to experiment/play with small UAVs, but any commercial use is not allowed. Some states are lobbying the FAA to participate in a test program to allow limited commercial use of drones in specially designated areas of the United States. Final rules are currently expected from the FAA in the fall of 2015.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 13:05