Senwes Scenario Junie / Julie 2015 - Page 52

••• F UT UR E F OC U S “ DATA COLLECTED FROM DRONES HAS HELPED FARMERS DETERMINE WHAT PARTS OF THEIR FIELDS NEED FERTILIZER AND HOW MUCH THE APPLICATION SHOULD BE. about - and I couldn’t wait to rush out to the exhibition tent where the drone had settled because a strong wind had blown up. (I think the young men on duty were rather startled by this excited ‘old’ lady rushing up to them and gushing in awe at the tiny, powerful, beautiful little thing in her hands that looked like a sophisticated plaything... definitely still not enough female farmers in my corner of the world!!!) (Oh and yes, it still costs a small fortune here in South Africa and that is without any sophisticated data gathering devises attached to it - that one only takes aerial film footage!!!) But... be sure of one thing, farmers will be buying them and budgeting for them soon in the same way they budget for massive tractors and high rise spray machines today, of this I am convinced. Drone use in agriculture is not a far-fetched, unrealistic idea anymore! Brett Johnson is a maize and soybean farmer in Iowa. He owns a precision agriculture company and says he is always on the lookout for ways to do something better. In 2013 he bought a drone for $30,000 which he says is already paying dividends on his farm. He uses the drone, which covers 80 acres per hour, to study how yields on his property are affected by changes in topography. He has identified some areas where the maize stand was not as strong as it should have been, 50 ” and this will inform his future planting decisions as to whether he will replant or avoid those acreages altogether. He also uses the drone to scout early for any problems in the fields. Some farmers will probably do the same as Johnson and buy their own drones, but there is also a strong possibility that farmers could hire the services of a company specialising in this niche market particularly since skills are needed not only to operate these complex machines, but also to interpret the data. This collecting of data has a major role to play in farming efficiently and allowing for the prevention of costly wastage. Data collected from drones has helped farmers determine what parts of their fields need fertilizer and how much the application should be. Drones can offer cheap aerial photography and film footage with both regular and infrared cameras. Analysis of the photos can provide farmers with previously unattainable information and enhance crop monitoring abilities. All farmers know the value of scouting their crops on a regular basis through the growing season, but few have the spare time to cover the hectares on foot properly – with a drone or UAV, hundreds of hectares can be captured in a single flight. Drones therefore afford farmers huge opportunities: 1) accurate information on tap, 2) June/July 2015 • SENWES Scenario optimal applications on water, seed, fertilisers and chemicals, 3) boosting yields and 4) contributing to the preservation and conservation of water. Todd Janzen, farm boy and Indianapolis agricultural attorney, writes an agricultural law blog spot for producers and organizations and believes these UAV’s are ‘a huge deal’. They are exploding onto the scene with immense promise for agriculture, but drone technology is still widely subjected to stringent controls due to widespread privacy issues. In America the farmers still have to follow the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) “hobby rules”. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is pressing the FAA to allow limited drone use for some operations like farming and movie-making, but the wheels are grinding very slowly. There are notable exceptions in other countries including Canada, Australia, Brazil and Japan which already use drones widely for agricultural purposes. Although the operation of drones in civil airspace is restricted, farmers may be surprised to learn that the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is one of the first regulatory bodies worldwide to submit draft regulations for the use of drones in civil airspace. The SACAA says it anticipates rapid changes as drones are a new phenomenon and regulations need to adjust to circumstances. It has been said that if precision farming has driven the farming revolution of recent years then monitoring crops from the sky will drive the next!