Weighing in at 5 pounds, unmanned aircraft have a bright future in farming, according to Dr. Kevin Price, an agronomist at Kansas State University.
"The technology will easily pay for itself very quickly," said Price, at the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in San Antonio. "Even a one percent savings will be a great savings to the farmer, but we think you can do closer to two to three percent by improving their ability to put down fertilizer in the right places at the right time and save on their fertilizer costs and catch diseases earlier before it costs them a lot more to treat."
Price sees the primary farm application for drones as mapping tools to determine where fields need attention.
"The first step will be that once they get the imagery they can just start looking at it and saying, `There's a bad spot in my field; I need to go figure out what's going on there,'" he said. "So you can use it even with low-level processing just as a crop scouting tool to start determining where there might be a problem."
Privacy issues are important and should not be minimized, said Price, but he adds that he would not like to see the technology held up while new laws are written.
"My feelings are that most of the laws are already out there, the privacy laws, and what we need to do is make sure that people understand those laws and that if people are violating them, then they should be punished for violating those laws," said Price.
As a matter of courtesy and respect for private property rights, farmers who use drones, said Price, should be good neighbors.