Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) have been utilized in many ways for years but for the most part the term drones have been associated with the military. However, until recent years no one has thought about using it for commercial agriculture. The general public and aviation industry are widely skeptical of this type of technology and for good reason. But like any new technology, if used correctly the benefits will prove its worthiness.What will they do? These UAS systems will allow producers to monitor larger portions of their farms in detail and be able to identify weak spots in planting and high stress areas including disease and insect pressure and irrigation faults. By using a series of available cameras/sensors (NIR, LIDAR, multispectral, hyperspectral, etc.) a producer can generate precision maps based on a multitude of data sets that the UAS is set to produce. Even some platforms are equipped with thermal imaging for livestock monitoring. Most importantly this technology can gather areas of interest (GPS coordinates) so that you have a precise location to walk to and see it in person without having to set foot in the field and find problem areas yourself.
Before purchasing a UAS system you will need to ask yourself some questions. What do I plan to do with this? What kind of data am I looking for? How large of an area to I plan to gather data on? Asking these questions will begin to steer you towards what you will need. There are two different types of airframes used for UAS systems. For small acreages there are multirotors (up to 100 acres) and fixed wing (100 acres +). Multirotors have a much smaller load capacity and a shorter run time on battery but are very useful in “stop and stare” situations. Fixed winged airframes have longer run times and are able to carry larger loads allowing users to equip these with more tools. Unlike the multirotors, the fixed wings are not able to drop into a location and hover.
Other considerations include the governance of UAS by the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. There are numerous airports that carry out commercial, general and agricultural aviation duties in Mississippi as well as across the country. This is one reason that the aviation industry is vocal on this technology. For this reason, the FAA has set regulations on UAS operations including the three classes of operators:
- Public Agency
As of December 21, 2015 all small unmanned aircraft (0.55 lbs or 25 g – 55 lbs or 250 g) must register an with the FAA UAS registry ($5 cost) prior to flying outdoors. Anything over 55 lbs must register through the aircraft registry process. If the UAS system is used for flying recreationally or as a hobby you will only need to register your airframe. If you plan to charge for a service or even use the UAS to aid your service or farm without charging you must file for a CoA and a Section 333. The CoA (Certificate of Waiver or Authorization) is an application that explains what type of system you have, where it will be flown, who will fly it, and various emergency procedures. The section 333 is what allows the UAS to be flown for profit such as flying your fields to make production decisions for better yields.
Some other general guidelines:
- Operating ceiling is 400 ft
- Fly during daylight hours
- Maintain line of sight at all times and try to use an observer
- Do not fly within 5 miles of an active airport or contact the airport prior to flying
- Do not directly fly over persons and property
- Maintain a 25 ft buffer from persons and property
- Do not video or photograph people or property where there is an expectation of privacy
There are mass amounts of rules and regulations that are being put in place to integrate these systems into one of the world’s busiest airspace. As long as the rules are followed then the technology will be very beneficial to all. These systems will allow producers to better utilize inputs and identify problem areas sooner, by using data sets generated as a proactive approach to solving agronomic issues. For more information regarding the regulations that are in place visit http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/.