Interested in growing a more efficient farm that yields a healthier, more plentiful (and profitable) bounty? If so, consider investing in precision agriculture tools such as unmanned aerial vehicles – also known as drones – which employ state-of-the-art technology to help growers make smart, accurate decisions when it comes to their crops.
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Many farmers across the U.S. are finding drones to be a worthy investment as they allow them to see their crops in a whole new, and far more in-depth, way. Steve Maxwell, founder and president of Florida-based Highland Precision Ag, says drones and their accompanying software give growers quick, precise data that enable them to pinpoint the exact location of pests, diseases, and other disturbances as well as see where crops are thriving. In other words, drone technology removes much of the guesswork that was previously unavoidable on the farm.
Drones can also help growers become more sustainable and reduce their environmental impact. Many of today’s drones are equipped with thermal cameras that provide up-to-date information such as indicating where crops need water. Farmers can then use this data to adjust field irrigation and avoid wasting excess water.
In addition, drone technology can be used to create maps that show where more fertilizer is needed – along with areas where there’s an abundance. As a result, growers can apply nutrients specifically where they are needed, increasing precision, efficiency, and yield while lowering costs. Less fertilizer in the field means less run-off, too, decreasing the algal blooms and dead zones in water systems.
“Once you get your farm into a virtual world, you can do many things you couldn’t do before,” Maxwell says. “There are a wealth of opportunities available in precision agriculture, and the imagery and data available today are incredibly valuable to both large- and small-scale growers.”
Best Practices for Proper Drone Use
Although drones are fairly simple to use, operators must follow rules and regulations to legally fly them.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), those interested in operating drones for professional or commercial purposes must be at least 16 years old, obtain a remote pilot certificate from the FAA by either passing an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center or having an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate, and pass Transportation Security Administration (TSA) vetting. The drone must weigh less than 55 pounds at takeoff, and operators must register their drones if the aircrafts weigh more than 0.55 pounds.
Additionally, the FAA states that drones must be flown in Class G airspaces, and the aircrafts are to remain in the operator’s sight while in use. Drones should fly under 400 feet at or below 100 miles per hour, and they must only fly during daylight hours. Finally, drones must yield right of way to manned aircraft and must not fly over people nor fly from a moving vehicle.