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The Potential and Pitfalls of Drones for Agriculture

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The Potential and Pitfalls of Drones for Agriculture

Dr. Kevin Price,
Dr. Kevin Price,

One of the hottest topics in agriculture today is UAVs or drones. At a summit, sponsored by the Indiana Law Foundation, the potential and pitfalls of drones were explored. UAVs or drones are a $13 Billion business today and expected to grow into an $80 billion industry by 2025.  Dr. Kevin Price, with Roboflight, says applications of drones are geared for agriculture 10 times more than any other industry.  He warns, however, that farmers need to do their research before they run out and buy a drone, “Because there are a lot of ways you can buy the wrong equipment, the wrong systems, and then data processing is a whole different issue.”

Price says growers need to approach drones not just as something that will fly over your field and take pictures, but as an integrated system of data collection and analysis, “It is getting the right aircraft, the right sensing systems, and then being able to process this data correctly afterwards.”  Much of this technology is still being developed and refined. Price demonstrated to  the summit the kind of research he is doing with drones and a wide variety of remote sensing equipment. He showed how drones can be used to show farmers where disease or insects are in their fields, where there are water or fertilizer problems, or where spray drift has occurred.  “You can get a much different view from above your field than from just standing at the edge or walking the rows,” Price said.

droneNot only can drones take photos, but they can be used to get infrared and ultra-violet images of a field, down to the square inch. Price said this technology has the potential to give farmers much more information than a yield monitor or satellite image can provide, “Drones allow you fly a field earlier in the growing season, so you can make management decision that can improve the productivity of your field.” He added that this kind of in-season data can also save a grower money by allowing him to reduce nitrogen levels or only spot treat a certain part of a field where the problem is.   Price’s firm is working on a system that will be able to predict yields with over 90% accuracy.

The use of drones is a legal and regulatory minefield that could end up costing farmers tens of thousands of dollars in fines. More on that side of the issue in our next report.