Agriculture Americas

UAV systems could benefit ag, but questions remain


By: Lucas Lentsch,

Excitement surrounds the potential use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in South Dakota’s agricultural industry. This technology could be used to fly over pastures and check cows or to take aerial surveys of crops and spray pesticide accordingly.

The uses for this tool are impressive, but the possible economic growth is appealing, as well. A recent report published by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems stated total UAV spending in the agriculture sector in South Dakota could be more than $1.4 million in 2015. The economic impact of UAV airspace integration in South Dakota could hit $9 million in the first three years and could possibly grow to more than $56 million from 2015 to 2025.

I am enthusiastic for UAV technology, but there are also potential problems with their use. How to analyze and process the data, set attainable standards for possible flight failures and deal with potential connection failures are all issues that will need to be addressed.

UAVs, like other aircraft, are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA recently released a long-awaited proposed rule for the use of small UAVs. These possible guidelines cover operational limitations, operator certification and responsibilities and aircraft requirements.

The South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Division is concerned about the use of UAVs in areas where firefighting aircraft is being utilized.

There are also many questions regarding privacy, data ownership and use that will need to be addressed.

SDDA is currently reviewing the rule and has engaged with counterparts at other Midwest state departments of agriculture to determine how our agencies might influence the evolving discussion.

I would encourage anyone with an interest in potential use of this technology to review the proposed regulations and weigh in with your comments before the April 24, deadline.

Additional information on the proposed rulemaking and a link to submit official comments can be found at

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