Agriculture Americas Civil

How Will Drones Be Used on American Farms?

In Alfalfa

For one, “you’re not going to see Predators flying across the heartland taking pictures of corn,” says Rory Paul, CEO of Volt Aerial Robotics and a leading voice in applying unmanned aerial vehicle technology to agriculture.

So what will they be doing? For answers, we asked a farmer who is already using a UAV in his fields in Idaho—in fact, he claims to be the nation’s first. Robert Blair runs the 1,500-acre Blair Three Canyon Farms in fertile north central Idaho, where he raises cows and grows winter wheat, spring wheat, malt barley, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and alfalfa. Blair regularly flies his homemade drone, which is about the size of a goose, over his fields to check on general plant health, damage from insects or other wildlife, or weeds. In an aerial photo of Blair’s pea field, taken by his UAV, one can see several clearings where an elk had helped itself to the crops.

Blair, who started flying his UAV on the farm in 2006, says a common misconception is that drones will replace farmers. A drone, he says, is merely another piece of technology that allows a farmer to reduce costs and be more efficient.

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