April 09 would have been easy to miss. There was no countdown broadcast over loudspeakers, no fireball at liftoff – but history was made as about a dozen people looked on Friday at a farm outside the rural Idaho town of Kendrick.
While the first flight of a commercial agricultural drone might not sound sexy – most people are undoubtedly waiting for that first package from Amazon before they'll acknowledge the Age of Drones has officially arrived – it marks the starting point of something pretty exciting in agriculture.
In a way, drones and cutting-edge technologies are nothing new to the agriculture industry. Perhaps the industry was a little slow to add amenities like AC and AM/FM radio to its cabs, but tractor manufacturers have been building things like GPS tracking and “auto steer” into equipment for several years now. The ability to manage seed and fertilizer application through precision agriculture offers farmers the chance to fine-tune their fields in a way their forebears could only dream of, saving both time and money.
Agricultural drones will allow farmers to dial in that precision even further.
With 40 percent of the land in the U.S. being farmland, Robert Blair, owner of Blair Farms and founder of Empire Unmanned, said, “Ag has a tremendous responsibility to feed people.”
Luckily, Blair can cover some 3,000 acres of farmland a day with his eBee Ag drone, designed to capture aerial images. Those images are analyzed to identify areas that have been damaged, or have received too much or too little water or fertilizer.
Along with the promise of additional benefits to farmers, it also marks the beginning of a new industry and new jobs.
According to recent Federal Aviation Administration regulations, each unmanned aerial system will require expert operators – two pilots, each with pilot licenses – as well specialists to interpret the data.
These new drones should remind the public that the devices can serve a purpose other than peeping in windows and killing terrorists. These drones can be used for some good things too, like helping to feed the world.