Drone use in agriculture
Our team recently traveled to Iowa State University and Kansas State University to learn about small unmanned aerial systems for use in agriculture.
Kansas State is using the technology to research a variety of uses in agriculture, including its use for evaluating crop conditions and variable rate technology as well as detecting high concentrations of blue green algae in ponds that could harm livestock.
Here's a link to a slideshow that will give you an overview of our research: Will drones be part of your precision ag plan?
We'll be featuring what we find in our May issue of Successful Farming magazine as well airing a 30-minute special on the Machinery Show, which will air on RFD-TV on June 6, 2013.
What are your thoughts on the technology? Would you be interested in using sUAS in your farming operation? Why or why not? What obstacles/concerns do you see with this technology?
Advanced Technology Editor
Re: Drone use in agriculture
For UAS to be more than a toy, they must show how they will provide a benefit to the farmer. They have to do the job better or faster or cheaper or in some way provide a reason to use them as opposed to walking or driving the crop or using satellite or airplane photography.
How do you get a UAS to check the underside of the bottom leaves of a soybean plant? How does it tell the difference between Goss's Wilt and Gray Leaf Spot? It may be that the UAS will have to use different disease indicators than we presently use.
Maybe new uses will be developed that we haven't even thought of yet.
They have to be legal. The idea that UAS will be like CB radios in the 60's and 70's has been raised. The FCC required a license for CB, but so many were bought and used that the FCC rolled over and granted a general license. The UAS salesmen who say that is the way it will be with the FAA think that the idea of a CB linear is the same as a UAS flying up the engine of a passenger airliner on approach to JFK. Maybe. Maybe not.
The whole question of privacy has been raised. Many states and cities are discussing laws to prevent UAS use. They are not aware that the FAA regulates UAS use. Cities and states have no say. Do you own the airspace above your farm? Can you prohibit or shoot down a UAS that comes cruising over snooping on your crop development? If the UAS you shoot down is flown by the USAD, you may bet a visit from a FSA agent next.
It's early days. A lot will happen. We have a lot of smoke and not much fire right now. Will ilt be like precision ag was in the early days? Or will it fizzle out?
UAS In Idaho
Idaho is trying to be one of the six FAA authorized test areas for UAS (umnammed aerial systems). At the same time, Idaho is passing legislation to control the use of UAS without a warrant.
I hate to break the news to Idaho, but the FAA is extremely jealous of who controls airspace and will tolerate no other government having any say. (The one exception is a Dept Interior wildlife refuge in California).
We'll have to see what comes of this, but I wouldn't put a lot of money on local governments being able to tell the feds what to do on airspace control.
Re: UAS In Idaho
I am ordering one this week. I am looking at it from a standpoint that when we have storms roll through in the summer I can go up and look to see if there is wind damage, hail etc. damage. I have my pilots lic. but to rent a plane and pay for fuel to go up vs.. buzzing around and sending the video back to my ipad it just seems more economical. I also plan on using it for our local fire ems response teams. Have talked to them and they are very receptive to the idea. If we have a truck accident with possible hazmat, we can fly the UAS right up to the tanker and read placards and see if it is leaking before sending in fire, ems personnel. Same goes for search and rescue. The one I am looking at can mount three different cameras on it for different purposes. Besides I have known of guys putting cameras on their RC planes for years, its no different.
Re: UAS In Idaho
As a pilot, I know you can't pretend the UAS for the uses you propose is legal without a COA. Are you going to simply ignore it and hope no one turns you in or sues you or the fire department?
Re: UAS In Idaho
As long as I use it under the 91-57 on my own farms they can't regulate it. Now if I use it commercially there is a different story. The fire / ems thing is a thought for now. I just was poking around and seeing what the response was like. This is not going away, they have become a part of our military, now the private sector wants in on it. It makes me mad about the base out of Des Moines being replaced possibly by drones. But, on our farm IF I can use it to run spectral cameras and see the health of my crop or look at storm damage so be it. I might be wrong, but until FAA gets it together and figures it out there are alot of grey areas involved.
Re: UAS In Idaho
If you use it for a business purpose, including information for use on your own farm, that is a commercial use and the FAA Chief Counsel has been consistent about that. What I'm saying is that if you take pictures of your crops or check your livestock wth a UAS for other than recreation, you can not fly it under AC 91-57. Blungly, you cannot legally make a business decision based on what you see in the photo.
The current FAA policy for UAS operations is that no person may operate a UAS in
the National Airspace System without specific authority. For UAS operating as public
aircraft the authority is the COA, for UAS operating as civil aircraft the authority is special
airworthiness certificates, and for model aircraft the authority is AC 91-57.
The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying
UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of
AC 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes its use by
persons or companies for business purposes."
Now, whether you get caught is something else. It's kind of like shooting deer that destroy your crops out of season. It's against the law even if one feels one has a moral right to do it. If one applies the 3 S's, it may not be an issue.
There are very few gray areas with the FAA, as you know as a pilot. What are called gray areas are attempts by UAS promoters to interpret the lack of specific rules in some areas as permission to do something. The AC 91-57 discussion above is a clear example of where the FAA says, "not so fast, Smedley".
What a lot of non-pilots don't realize is that the FAA can be draconian in it's activities. You and I know as pilots how hard they can come down on you. The non-pilots are betting that the FAA will roll over on this because there is a lot of political interest. They may be right, but that remains to be seen and in the meantime there is some risk in using a UAS outside FAA guideleins.
As pilots, I'm willing to be the FAA would not hesitate to revoke or suspend our pilot certification if they cite us with a violation. They can easily get us under FAR 91.13 as you well know.
Re: UAS In Idaho
There is NO reason why small UAS cannot coexist with manned systems in the NAS. The fact is that there is no more risk involved in recreational model plane use than commercial use of UAS especially for agricultural applications. The proponents of the technology are not asking to operate in class G airspace we would be happy at 400 feet in VLOS!
I would also like to point out that the FAA is not the last word on this issue even though they like to think so. I believe there is still a constitution and a Supreme Court and I believe that the FAA's policy of no commercial use may well constitute a violation of our 5th Amendments property rights!