Will UAVs Be Taking Off Soon To Scout Farm Fields?

Will UAVs Be Taking Off Soon To Scout Farm Fields?

Unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, may soon be approved for ag uses such as flying over farm fields.

There are still some obstacles in the way, but it appears that commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for agricultural purposes may be around the corner. These are sometimes referred to as drones -- aerial surveillance technology. These UAV systems can be used in agriculture if they are approved by the U.S. government.

A recent Reuters news story says the Federal Aviation Agency recently certified two high-end fixed-wing UAV systems. One was developed by Boeing; the other is from AeroViroment, Inc. In both cases, the planes weigh less than 50 pounds, have 4.5 feet wingspans and are in the $100,000 price range.

GET A BIRD'S EYE VIEW: Rory Paul, of Volt Aerial Robotics, launches a fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, to scout a cornfield where corn rootworm trials are located. He is working with the Iowa On-Farm Network to help get this new technology ready for use in agricultural applications such as aerial scouting of farm fields.

This technology has been tested the past two years, scouting farm fields in Iowa

Rory Paul, who owns and operates Volt Aerial Robotics, spoke on possible agricultural uses for UAVs at the Iowa Soybean Association's 2013 On-Farm Network conference last winter in Ames. He says this recent action by the Federal Aviation Agency appears to be a "…slight softening of their stance with regards to agricultural use of these UAV systems, and that is encouraging."

Paul first demonstrated his UAVs for On-Farm Network staff a year ago by helping scout a field where a corn rootworm trial had shown considerable lodging. He again demonstrated the value of such craft in scouting a similar field in Iowa this year.

EYE IN THE SKY: This is an image from a corn rootworm trial field, a photo taken by a drone. While there is lodging in the trial area above the gray line, there's more lodging shown in the refuge area below the line.

Paul says use of UAVs for aerial mapping and scouting of fields had been slowed by the lack of fast, reasonably priced software for stitching the individual images produced by UAV mounted cameras into a geo-referenced view of an entire field. "However, we have seen some advances in technology in the last few months in image processing with better image stitching software. And in the past two months, we saw the introduction of some really interesting software for creating NVDI imagery from low cost sensors. In my opinion this new software is a game changer."

The Reuters news report that is mentioned earlier in this article also says FAA is expected to announce six sites where UAVs will be tested sometime in the next few months.

Paul says UAVs can be used for noncommercial purposes, providing they aren't flown in FAA regulated air space. He suggests that farmers and others interested in seeing UAVs certified for agricultural applications might be able to get agricultural exemptions for the technology by working with their farm organizations and USDA. For more information or if you have questions, contact Paul by email at [email protected]. You can also email Pat Reeg at the ISA On-Farm Network, [email protected] or call him at 515-669-9184.

TAGS: Soybean USDA
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