MUNCIE, Ind. — Drones are helping farmers scout crops, analyze data and detect problems faster.

For example, by looking at different light spectrums with sensors on a drone, producers can identify plant health issues, nutrient deficiencies and other problems that can lower yields.

But, as with all technology, there are pros and cons.

Mark Carter, Purdue Extension specialist in Delaware County, shared a few during a webinar about drones.

Pros:

  • Image collection can be done more frequently.
  • Imagery is more precise.
  • Imagery is cheaper than satellite or plane.
  • The operator has more control of the data.

Cons:

  • Unmanned aerial systems require more time and effort.
  • Time to charge batteries, fly fields, process images and analyze data.
  • May be required to keep flight logs.
  • There is always the possibility of crashing your investment.

Carter shared advice for farmers who are interested in using drones.

“If you have an interest in this, No. 1 — make sure you check out the licensing process,” he said.

“The second thing you need to do is make sure your drone fits your application. There’s no sense in spending $25,000 on something you can do with a $1,800 to $2,000 drone.

“If you don’t need true Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, the best thing to look for is a standard RGB camera. You can get a lot of information just by flying a drone up in the air, taking a few pictures of your field and just see what you’ve got.”

Finally, Carter encouraged farmers to have insurance on their drone, in case it causes an accident.

Follow The Rules

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Small UAS Rule 14, Part 107 provides safety guidance and rules.

It gives information about airspace restrictions, visual observer requirements and operational requirements.

Remote pilot certification requirements:

  • Be at least 16 years old.
  • English proficiency.
  • Pass TSA background check.
  • Pass written multiple-choice aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA approved testing center.
  • Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months.
  • No aeronautical experience of flight proficiency required.
  • No airman medical certificate required.

Helping Farmers With Disabilities

Drones can be used by those with disabilities to help them see more things in their environment.

The technology can improve crop scouting and make it easier to check on livestock.

“Just because you’ve got a disability doesn’t mean you can’t get out and do what you need to do,” Carter said. “I use them every day, and I’m paralyzed from the waist down.

“I use them on my farm. My family farms 3,500 acres and we use them for crop scouting and with people on the livestock side. We can check fencing, livestock, forage and water.”

Piloting drones also provides farmers with new business opportunities:

  • Crop scouting: $1 to $ 5 per acre.
  • Insurance inspection: $25+ per hour.
  • Photography: $25+ per hour.
  • Infrastructure inspection: $250+ per hour.
  • Video/cinema camera operator: $50,000 to $70,000 per year.
  • Contractor: make your own prices.
  • Military: $110,000 per year.

“You can make quite a bit of money if you want to start a business,” Carter said. “I’m not trying to give unreal expectations, but there is money to be made with this.”

Erica Quinlan can be reached at 800-426-9438, ext. 193, or equinlan@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Quinlan.

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