Drones may be agriculture's next big tool

Published On: Jul 03 2013 07:25:55 AM HST   Updated On: Jul 03 2013 07:28:53 AM HST
SALINA, Kan. -

Farmers across Kansas could soon be getting high-tech help from small, unmanned aerial drones.

The planes, not much bigger than toys, may soon be coming to farm fields across the state.

"Agriculture makes the perfect place to try this out, because there are not many people, nor shelters," said Kurt Barnhart of Kansas State University -- Salina.

He said the remote nature of farm country negates many of the privacy concerns involving domestic drones.

The unmanned aircraft can scan acreage from the air, letting a farmer see in seconds what might otherwise take hours to walk or drive. With infrared technology, it can help point out problems that come from too much or too little sunlight.

"An unmanned vehicle gets a farmer the right information so he can make good decisions," said Michael Toscano of the Unmanned Vehicle Association. "That's what unmanned craft do."

:I think within a couple of years, you'll see an explosion of UVAs in Kansas," said Kansas State University agronomist Gary Pierzynski.

Some people call the devices "precision agriculture." Programmers can help the drone fly an identical route every time, allowing farmers to compare growth between one flight and the next.

"You may not have to spray that much, or you may not have to spray an entire field," Toscano said. "Just the parts where the blight may be."

The technology may be in place and easy to acquire in just a few years. The Federal Aviation Administration is drawing up rules for farm drones to figure out how they can be used and where they can fly.

A Wichita, Kan., company is starting a business to build the farm drones, costing somewhere between $5,000-$7,000 each.


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