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Commercial market for drones in agriculture is robust, farmers told

L_111914-research-droneThe market for commercial drone use in American agriculture has been recognized by aviation and agriculture experts. But some specifics remain up in the air.

Farmers at the 2015 Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention in Norfolk posed numerous questions. Among them were “Who owns the data that (drones) collect on private land?”, “Will there be regulatory training for operators, like there is for pilots?” and “If you find a drone in your soybean field, is it yours?”

Darryl Jenkins, chairman of the American Aviation Institute, delivered the convention’s keynote address on “The Future of Drones and Your Farm.” Jenkins is founder of the George Washington University Aviation Institute and a past professor at GWU and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He also is a consultant to airlines and aviation companies, an airline analyst and author of the Handbook of Airline Economics.

The market for unmanned aerosystems in agriculture is “a decent market” to say the least, he noted. “We thought (commercial drones) would be used primarily in agriculture, but every day I get a note about new uses for drones.”

In agriculture specifically, Jenkins said, “you’re going to see drones, and you’re going to see them soon and they’re going to become ubiquitous.” Proposed Federation Aviation Administration rules, he noted, will establish regulations sufficient for commercial drone use on smaller and medium-size farms.

He cited a recent study conducted for the American Farm Bureau Federation that found farmers will, on average, enjoy a $10-per-acre increase in revenue by using drones. That figure will vary, he said, because per-acre value varies among U.S. crops. He cited his own research that found only 5 percent of U.S. farmers have made up their minds to use drones to collect information on their crops.

The devices can be used to survey evapotranspiration, surface and root-zone soil moisture and crop health features like chlorophyll levels and canopy volumes, Jenkins said. “We can measure all sorts of things in your field,” generating data that he said will be “the next big Green Revolution.”

Questions remain, he noted, on who will own that data. But precision agriculture operators can use it to create prescriptive maps of fields and then tailor how, when and where they irrigate or apply products like fertilizer.

Drone owners most likely will be required to register themselves as such with the FAA, and commercial operators most likely will be required to hold a license and maintain certification and a flight logbook, Jenkins said.

With 128,000 members in 88 county Farm Bureaus, VFBF is Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group. Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to supporting Virginia’s agriculture industry and preserving the Virginia way of life. View more convention news as it becomes available atVaFarmBureau.org/NewsVideo/ConventionNewsroom.aspx.


augusta free press
augusta free press