Farmers eye drones as key to future of agriculture


The drone could be ready to take its place alongside the tractor and combine harvester, as the next indispensable piece of farming equipment.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently released new rules governing the use of drones, and farmers, who see drones as a way to get a birds-eye view of their fields and monitor crops, to precisely deliver fertilizer and pesticides were watching carefully. Commercial use of drones is still widely banned in the U.S., but many farmers are using them over their property anyway, daring federal regulators to put a stop to it. An eye in the sky can help a farmer know what his or her crops need, and what might be afflicting them.

“I know that I have aphids in the chard, and I know that I have aphids in the kale,” said Steve Sprinkel, an organic farmer in Ojai, Calif., as he inspected rows of crops recently.

As an organic farmer, Sprinkel spends much of his time looking for disease and insects.

“We are always out there watching,” he said. “We are constantly observing.”

Sprinkel looks forward to the time when he can use drones to monitor his crops. Experts say it is a matter of time until drones revolutionize agriculture.

“The future of farming certainly involves technologies like drones,” said Brandon Basso recently, as he demonstrated the X8M, one of the latest innovations in drone technology for farms.

“[They] really gain us an additional perspective from the air on what’s going on both on a micro-scale and a macro-scale.”

Basso runs research and development for 3D Robotics, a San Francisco-based company that is leading the way in farm drones. He says the mechanized remote control flying machines can use infared imaging to check crops for infestations as well as proper water irrigation. He says they’ll even make non-organic farms more healthy.

The X8M, for instance, can fly over a large area and detect discoloration that might elude the human eye.

“So we can, through the use of drones, understand how pesticides are working, understand pest problems better and potentially eliminate the need for pesticides in areas where it actually was a fungal problem and not a pest problem,” Basso said.

That’s good news to Sprinkel, who believes technology can mean less chemicals in the world.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to diminish chemicals,” says Sprinkel, as he takes a break from examining his beets, “and [for] a farmer to focus on the more important things.”

Like, he said, enjoying the fruits of his own labor.

Douglas Kennedy currently serves as a correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1996 and is based in New York.