Farmers Power Up Drones For Field Help

By Tom Bacon

Aerial drones are not just for war fighters any more. At least one Idaho farmer thinks the one he built is just the ticket for overseeing and managing his fields of wheat, peas, barley and alfalfa.

Robert Blair farms about 15-hundred acres near Kendrick, Idaho, southeast of Moscow. He didn't wait around for politicians to write new rules for aerial drones. He built his own. It's a contraption about five feet long, fitted with a camera. Kendrick uses it to make decisions on crops and plant health, to figure out where to fertilize and what areas might need pesticide applications.

Farmers, researchers and private firms are developing unmanned aircraft - they're called UAVs in the trade, for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles - outfitted with cameras and other sensors to help farmers quickly extend their overview of conditions in the fields. 

UAVs are already widely used in other countries such as Japan and Brazil. But in the U-S, development has been slow because of federal regulations on the use of airspace and privacy concerns. Farmers such as Blair, however. point out that privacy concerns are not an issue when they're used over fields with nothing around them.

In fact, his small drone is legal, because essentially, it's a model airplane, and the FAA doesn't get worried as long it's flown no higher than 400 feet, far from populated areas and no one gets paid to do it.
Blair thinks the possibilities are endless. Flying gizmos could be used to ward off hungry birds. to pollinate crops, do snow surveys to forecast water supplies, monitor irrigation, and even plant and harvest crops.
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