An increasing number of American farmers have begun using tiny drones equipped with little video cameras to gather information about the health of their crops. Technically, these farmers are breaking the law because it is currently illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes without permission from federal authorities. Even though they could be subject to thousands of dollars in penalties, the benefits of using the drones to monitor their fields have these farmers willing to take the risk.
That may soon change for farmers across the nation. The Federal Aviation Administration recently proposed new rules that would ease the restrictions on flying drones for commercial purposes. A part of the regulations, the people operating the drones would have to undergo a certification process and would be restricted from operating the drones out of their line of sight. If the new rules are adopted, it could open up drone use for a number of industries.
One industry that is very eager for the new rules to be adopted is the agriculture industry. According to a statement from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, agriculture is expected to comprise nearly 80 percent of the market for commercial drone flights. One farmer estimated that using drones to pinpoint which parts of her fields needed fertilizer, water, weed killer or seed would save them tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs.
Technology companies are quickly positioning themselves in anticipation of drones being used widely in commercial industries. Boulder, Colorado-based Agribotix reports that it has sold roughly 100 devices to farmers and crop consultants, along with services that read a drone’s digital files and uses them to create a map that delineates a field’s health by color. The maps help farmers make informed decisions about the best treatments for different areas of their fields, potentially increasing yields while keeping down costs.