Show spotlights UAV technology

Published online: Jul 20, 2014
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The first Precision Aerial Ag Show ended July 11 in Decatur, Ill. The event, which attracted people from as far away as India, was held to give farmers and others a peek at the technology’s possibilities.

The curious wanted to learn more about agricultural applications for unmanned aerial vehicles, said Stu Ellis, the show manager.

The purpose of the show was “to let farmers know that this technology can provide some great information that would really help them make management decisions to improve their efficiency and their productivity,” said Ellis, at the completion of the first day of the show.

A remaining hurdle to commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is that the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to act on regulations regarding them.

There are doubts, however, that the bureaucratic wheels will turn quickly for UAVs. An attorney attending the show commented that rulemaking would be a slow process. The topic of rules governing UAVs has been before the FAA for close to 10 years, and there are still no rules even for the smallest flying equipment.

Nonetheless, people are enthusiastic about the capabilities of the technology, so farmers are using it on their own farms mostly for scouting and mapping fields.

“We’ve learned a little bit about water management early and right now we’re using [UAVs] to get fungicide applications timely, and I’m sure there will be more uses come this fall,” said Matt Barnard, who farms at Gibson City, Illinois and is president of Crop Copters, a UAV company.

“It’s kind of like a fork lift or a backhoe, you don’t know how important it is to your operation until you take it away,” said Barnard, “and as soon as you get one, you’re like, how did I ever live without one.”

The show is a way of demonstrating that UAVs can be operated productively, Stu Ellis told Brownfield Ag News, referring to the vehicles’ potential to be autonomous machines that can get food and merchandise to online customers. “[This event] shows that we’re not here just playing around delivering hot wings or a case of beer.”