When I say the word drone, you probably think about military missions or snooping activists — but I bet you don’t think about agriculture!
Drones — unmanned aircraft or remotely guided ships — may be the wave of the future for farmers. They provide an aerial view of crops so farmers don't have to leave the ground themselves.
This provides extremely useful data to the farmer.
Ordinary overhead pictures or video of the fields can help farmers find weeds, diseases or even insect damage before they become widespread.
Other new technology allows farmers to capture images with near infrared cameras mounted on drones and use computer software to evaluate the Normalized Differential Vegetation Index (NDVI for short). Plants with healthy chlorophyll reflect near infrared light and plants with damaged chlorophyll absorb it. NDVI, which picks up this difference, can quickly alert the farmer to problem areas in the field.
All this extra data helps farmers target the fields' areas that need attention. Farmers can target any pesticide or fertilizer applications to only on the area in need. This decreases the amount of unnecessary chemicals on the crops and thus in the environment.
Right now, the FAA is not sure how to regulate the use of drones in agriculture. Most commercially available models are not sturdy enough to meet the demand for scouting crops on a regular basis. This technology's cost varies greatly depending on the type of drone and camera used.
A few companies make drones specifically for agricultural use, and some farmers and crop consultants use these machines to scout their fields.
Will drones become the next big thing on farms?
Only time will tell.
Jennifer Bearden is an agent at the University of Florida's Extension office in Crestview.