Drones Set Their Sites on Agriculture

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as “drones,” are a hot button issue all around the world. That issue recently shouldered its way into the collective Iowa conscience when it was announced that 132 Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, located at the Des Moines International Airport, will soon be trading its fleet of F-16 fighter jets for an as yet unspecified model of UAV.

Assurances that the drones will not be operating over the skies of Iowa, but will be piloted remotely by Iowa ANG personnel while being located somewhere else (possibly overseas), has done little to quell the fears of anxious Iowans who imagine UAVs buzzing low over our neighborhoods and looking into our daily comings and goings.

Imagine what that portends, then, if UAVs really do find their way into agriculture, as this article contends they almost certainly will.

As this piece lays out, the potential benefits of agricultural drones are many, including:

  • Faster, more economical aerial surveys of farm land
  • Greatly enhanced precision and efficiency of aerial application of fertilizer, pesticides, and fungicides
  • Easier imaging and data acquisition for farm management and insurance purposes

What’s more, one source cited within the article asserts that it’s not just the large farming operations that stand to benefit from agricultural drones, but that the convenience, accuracy, and immediacy of UAVs will be affordable even for small farmers.

Of course, you can’t discount the impact of the estimated100,000 new jobs and $82 billion in economic activity UAV deregulation could spur, according to a recent study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). Even when accounting for the obvious bias of the study’s sponsor, it’s clear that commercial operation of UAVs is likely to have a positive economic impact that is likely to be felt in the farming community.

But even allowing for all of those perks, it’s still easy to see why plenty of people, farmers and non-farmers alike, will not welcome drones into their air space.

The creepiness factor alone will be enough for many people to oppose the use of UAVs for any reason whatsoever. Just imagine a farmer sitting at his kitchen table and hearing the sound of a drone buzzing up and down his property line. Would he be paranoid to wonder who was operating the drone? Or what they are taking pictures of? And from there he might begin to question just who has access to any photos and videos that, even inadvertently, include his land, his buildings, his equipment, and his home. Will he have any say over allowing drones to fly over his land, or can anyone at anytime fly a UAV over his property, recording photo and video the entire time?

Surely he will question the safety of having an unmanned aircraft operating just a few feet above the crops while he goes about his daily chores in his own fields, sitting in a tractor or combine that could potentially position him at a higher altitude than a nearby UAV.

Furthermore, do we really want to become desensitized to the idea of drones operating above us? Will we able to distinguish the benign drones from those being operated with more nefarious intent?

Clearly, there are many legal, ethical, privacy, civil liberty, and safety questions that remain to be answered before we see drones crisscrossing our farm fields. Those answers won’t come quickly and are sure to incite some spirited debate. So we’d like to know where you stand on the questions of UAVs in agriculture. Take the anonymous survey below and/or share your comments by using the form at the bottom of this page.

UAV Ag Usage Survey

How do you feel about the use of UAVs in agriculture?

Would you use a UAV in your farming operation?

How would you feel if you knew your neighbor was using a UAV in his/her farming operation?

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