Drones draw interest to crop scouting and other new farm uses
Remote sensors can play a big part of farming in the future. Those sensors can be on a 10-foot pole or a satellite 250 miles out in space.
The sensors of most interest at an agriculture technology fair, July 17, were on an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, that looks like a toy helicopter. Farmers and agribusiness came to see, learn and do.
“Remote sensors offer amazing potential in data collection for farmers, people who advise farmers and scientists,” said Bill Wiebold, University of Missouri professor of plant science. “This is tomorrow’s agriculture.”
A technology-packed day at MU Bradford Research Center showed 100 participants current uses. Sensors were on highboys, four-wheelers and tractors.
It was pictures from drones that drew gee-whiz comments.
“Everyone who sees a drone thinks of new uses,” Wiebold said. “As an agronomist, I thought about improved scouting of crops for weeds, insects or fertility.
“When I show these to beef farmers, they see ways to track their herds. When Bootheel farmers saw them, they thought of checking irrigation rigs.”
Checking with drones to see if water pipes are flowing would save lots of walking. Seeing when crops need water does have commercial value, Wiebold said, but farmers gain personal enjoyment from doing a good job.
Wiebold spent much of his talk on new limitations imposed by Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
FAA, charged with safety of airspaces, is rewriting rules for commercial use of drones. That includes use by farmers. However, the FAA set back release beyond dates imposed by Congress, Wiebold said.
“The latest rules are more restrictive, not less so,” Wiebold said. “Learn the rules and abide by them. We want to keep airspaces safe. Like the FAA, whose motto is ‘Safety is our passion,’ we are good stewards of airspace as we are of land and water.”
Recreational use by hobbyists is less restricted, he said.
“Slow clarification of rules for use on farms is frustrating, frankly.”
Wiebold says his membership in the Academy of Model Aeronautics has been educational. Membership also provides insurance protection.
“Prior to recent rule changes, farmers used model-aircraft drones on their own property as long as they did not invade privacy of others.”
Wiebold showed videos, made before the restrictions, of his long-term Bradford research plots. “I gained a new perspective on what no-till ground looks like,” he said.
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