Unmanned Aircraft a Promising Agriculture Technology



LAKE ALFRED | You might see drones buzzing over Florida farms in 2017.

Those drones, also called “unmanned aerial vehicles” or UAVs, should not be confused with their lethal military counterparts. These carry cameras, infrared sensors and other imaging devices that can improve how farmers grow.

UAVs can become an integral part of Florida farms for uses such as weed control, soil moisture monitoring to conserve irrigation water, disease detection and precise fertilizer applications, according to 13 researchers in the area who shared their expertise Friday at a day-long seminar at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

Congress assigned the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the commercial use of UAVs by this year, said Reza Ehsani, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the Lake Alfred center, who hosted the seminar. But the FAA has indicated the regulations won’t be finalized until early 2017.

Until then, scientists have work to do to transform the data collected by electronic sensors mounted on UAVs into practical information for farmers, Ehsani told more than 50 participants at the seminar.

“UAVs are good at collecting data,” he said. “There are a lot of steps from collecting data to transforming it to useful information to help the grower. That’s what’s missing now.”