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Sunday, July 5

Drones come to American farms; their use will save much water and chemicals -- and manpower

 ... agriculture could account for 80 percent of all commercial drone use.


Chilcott is optimistic that the technology to scout out problem spots so precisely will be transformative because farmers can limit spraying just to those places. “In five years we won’t have to blanket a field with chemicals,” he says.


Geske may not be able to use drones efficiently to monitor all the irrigation pipes on his 2,100 acre Missouri farm if he has to keep them within sight. He’s still interested, though. The men he hires now use a lot of fuel and their trucks tear up his land and roads.

“You can wait forever on advancing technology,” Geske says.


How Drones Could Replace Workers On American Farms
By MARY CLARE JALONICK, AP
July 5, 2015 - 2:37pm EDT
Associated Press va PBS NewsHour

[...]

Farmers are eager for the technology.

The small, relatively inexpensive vehicles could replace humans in a variety of ways around large farms: transmitting detailed information about crops to combines and sprayers, directing them very precisely to problem spots and cutting down on the amount of water and chemicals that a farmer needs to use in those areas.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says agriculture could account for 80 percent of all commercial drone use.

Agricultural use of drones is about to take off after being grounded for years by the lack of federal guidelines. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved more than 50 exemptions for farm-related operations since January.

Companies with those exemptions say business has grown, helped by quick advances in the technology.

Bret Chilcott of Kansas-based AgEagle, which sells unmanned aerial vehicles and the software to help operate them, says his company took its first orders last year. Now it has a backlog of several hundred orders. He says the technology has transformed the market during that short period.

“Last year users had to land their aircraft and then take the data to the computer,” he says. “Now the data appears on your iPad or hand-held device a few minutes after flight.”

That data could be pictures, 3-D images of plants, thermal readings of crops or animals or other observations that a drone could make while in the air. Information that in the past took days to collect – or could not have been collected at all – can be gathered now in minutes or hours and, in some cases, integrated with separate data collected from other high-tech farm machinery.

Chilcott is optimistic that the technology to scout out problem spots so precisely will be transformative because farmers can limit spraying just to those places.

“In five years we won’t have to blanket a field with chemicals,” he says.

Still, most farmers cannot legally fly the vehicles yet.

[...]

Plenty more in the report, which also details concerns about guidelines for using drones.  

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