Look Up! Farming’s Future Is Coming In For A Landing [Opinion]

UAV in flight
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

It doesn’t seem all that long ago when the thought of autonomous aircraft performing day-to-day tasks (normally reserved for human beings)was nothing more than a lark. Well, this bird has wings now.

Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared the runway for routine commercial use of small drones (aka, unmanned aircraft systems or UAS). The new finalized rule is slated to go into effect at the end of August.

The ruling is good news not only for those with drones seeking to employ the technology beyond capturing a YouTube-worthy clip, but also for overall business. According to industry estimates, the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years. Given those figures, who’s ready for take-off?

Given FAA's finalized ruling, would you use drones and/or drone services on your farm?

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Keep Your Seat Belts Fastened

While it sounds like the friendly skies are opening wide for UAS, there are still plenty of dos and don’ts to beware before taking to the air. The updated rule provides safety regulations for drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are “conducting non-hobbyist operations.” For example: Pilots (who, by the way, must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate) are required to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight.

Planning on flying your craft during twilight? That’s OK, as long as the unit has anti-collision lights.

Now when it comes to privacy issues, that’s still a work in progress. However, the FAA does have recommended guidelines. These, as well as all documentation related to the final rule, are available at FAA.gov/uas.

Eyes To The Horizon

Nearly one year ago, a news item was posted on GrowingProduce.com about how Texas A&M AgriLife scientists were using UAS in their research and what they thought about the technology.

Precision Ag Vision Conference logoHere’s a poignant quote from the article: “Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, will soon play a major role in meeting the challenges of feeding a growing global population,” said Juan Enciso, an AgriLife Research irrigation engineer in Weslaco, TX. “One day, flying a UAV will be a routine task an agricultural producer performs on a regular basis to help him efficiently maintain his crops, improve yields, and optimize resources, especially water.”

During the recently held Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference in Bonita Springs, a panel of producers provided testimonials about what is working and not working in the era of HLB. Bill Barber of Lykes Bros. referenced the old saying of “footprints in the grove are the best fertilizer” to make a point regarding modern technology — specifically drones — as a replacement for those footprints.

“This is something we’re going to need to help us in the future,” he said.

I know others feel the same way (see poll results above) as time and resources become more stretched.

With that, I’d say we’re ready to take things up a notch.

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