Tag Archives: Federal Aviation Administration

Unmanned Drones: Big Brother or Agronomic Asset?

Get ready for a lot more UFO sightings.  The age of the unmanned drone is here and it’s not just for flyovers of hostile lands far, far away.

Real soon you might look up and see one buzzing over your Nebraska feedlot or your Iowa cornfield or Wisconsin dairy farm.

Seriously. Don’t be surprised if very soon they’re as common in your backyard as the mosquitoes during your picnic barbeque.  The hysteria has already started.  Just last week some people thought they saw a UFO along the Capitol Beltway in Washington.  Turns out it was not outer space aliens headed to the capitol but instead a military X-47B drone headed to a military base in Maryland for testing.

Why the sudden buzz – pardon the pun – about drones?  Well, in February, President Obama signed into law a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that requires the agency – on a fairly rapid schedule – to write rules opening U.S. airspace to unmanned aerial vehicles.

With that action the genie officially came out of the bottle and it has profound implications for many sectors of our society.  And if you think domestic use is going to be limited to patrolling borders and assisting law enforcement in big cities you are very wrong.

Just the other day I got an e-newsletter from Beef magazine telling the story about the aerial surveillance of Nebraska feedlots by the EPA.  The problem – the feedlot operators had no idea they were being monitored.  Now in this case the EPA was “monitoring” via traditional manned aircraft but can you imagine the EPA armed with a fleet of drones to monitor “agricultural” activity?

Such potential abuse is real and could undermine the real good this technology could actually do for precision agriculture and basic agronomy.  Crop scouting millions of acres in detail from above would be a game changer for agronomists and precision agriculture service providers.  No more waiting on hit and miss satellite imagery.  It could greatly reduce the overall cost of imagery and allow practical deployment of new sensors measuring nutrient levels and insect infestation.

Whether we like it or not drones are in our future.  The question yet to be answered for agriculture is whether the technology will be its friend or foe.  I sure hope it is embraced for good because it has the greatest in-season management potential of any agronomic tool I’ve seen in a long time.

For more information on this subject, please check out the following articles: