DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Interest is growing in using
unmanned drones to help monitor millions of acres of crops.
Drones with infrared cameras and other sensors can help
identify insect problems and watering issues early. They also can help assess
crop yields and locate missing cattle.
The Des Moines
Register reports that supporters believe using drones on farms
makes sense because the operations are generally large and in rural areas.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
predicts that 80 percent of the commercial use of drones eventually will be in
Former Kansas State University professor Kevin Price said
drones will let farmers monitor their crops in ways they never have, and he
expects nearly every farm to start using the technology in the next decade.
“It is endless right now, the applications in agriculture,”
said Price, who left the university this month to join RoboFlight, a
Denver-based company that sells drones and analyzes the data collected on corn,
soybean and other field crops.
Farmer Brent Johnson spent $30,000 on a drone last year to
study how the topography of his 900-acre central Iowa farm affects yields. He
said using the drone helps him decide whether to replant an area or avoid it in
“I’m always looking for an advantage, looking for how I can
do things better,” he said.
Drones also can help farmers determine how much pesticide,
herbicide or fertilizer to apply to specific areas of their fields. They range
in cost from $2,000 for a basic model to roughly $160,000 for a military-style
Some farmers may try to operate their own drone, like
Johnson has done, but most are likely to hire companies with the expertise to
operate the devices.
Privacy and safety concerns have been raised about the idea
of businesses using drones. But agricultural use of the devices could be more
likely to gain acceptance.
Gilbert Landolt has protested the way the U.S. military uses
drones as part of the Des Moines chapter of Veterans for Peace, but he’s not
opposed to agricultural use as long as it’s regulated properly.
“There are good uses for drones, I’m not saying there’s not,
but we need to get a handle on it,” he said. “If they had some type of control
over it and could do it in a way on a farm that makes sense, I don’t have an
issue with that.”
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