In FERN's latest story, Michael Behar takes a close look at precision agriculture — cutting-edge tools like drones, satellite imagery and artificial intelligence that help farmers keep careful watch over their crops. In addition to improving yields, Behar shows how the technology also allows farmers to reduce water and chemical use. The story was produced in collaboration with EatingWell magazine.(No paywall)
One-third of the farmers and ranchers in a Purdue survey say a drone was used on their farm in the past year and a sizable majority of them, 56 percent, say the aerial robot added value to their operations. In two of three cases, the drones were used by a service provider, rather than the farmer, said Purdue in its monthly Ag Economy Barometer on Tuesday.
A three-member team of engineers in Britain, working as the Hands-Free Hectare initiative, are "the first people in the world to grow, tend and harvest a crop without direct human intervention," says The New Yorker. The engineers say their underfunded experiment with a plot of barley shows the potential of autonomous agriculture, in which machines work the field without farmers at the steering wheel.
Farmers in part of Shanxi Province in northern China flew drones over their orchards to spray pesticides on the trees and saved money in the process, according to the state news agency, Xinhua. It quoted a 60-year-old farmer as saying the drones "are a godsend."
Utah could soon become the first state to make it illegal to harass livestock with drones. Passed unanimously by the House, HB217 would make it a class B misdemeanor to harangue livestock with drones, ATVs or dogs, says The Deseret News.
In the arid West, pioneering California farmers are using drones to add another layer of precision to their use of irrigation water, says Associated Press. One of the pioneers, Cannon Michael, of Bowles Farming Co. in Los Banos, has mounted a thermal camera on a drop to spot leaks from underground irrigation pipes — color variations indicate different amounts of moisture in the soil.
The USDA's effort to elevate farming as a career option for veterans once they exit the military is moving into a new phase, says Military Times, as officials "unveiled ... plans to better explain and market a host of industry jobs to recently separated service members, calling it a growth area that fits nicely with the skills and training of those veterans."
Funding worldwide for agriculture-technology startups in the first six months of 2016 dropped 20 percent, to $1.8 billion, from the same period last year, even as the number of overall deals rose, Reuters reports.
Lightweight drones "can monitor crop health in real time for farmers who are trying to manage farms that are hundreds or even thousands of acres," says the White House in hailing the release of U.S. ground rules for commercial use of the aircraft.
The miniaturization of farm machinery may be the ag-tech counter-trend that actually encourages smaller, more diverse farms.
Beginning next Monday, operators of small drones "need to go online and register their names and addresses with the Federal Aviation Administration," says NPR, reporting on new federal regulations for the increasingly popular devices.
A mandatory registration system for drones "looks set to be in force in the United States before the end of the year," reports PC World, based on the recommendations of an industry task force that included Google and Amazon.
Regulations for use of drone aircraft "are significantly lagging the pace of innovation," says a Brookings Institution blog post. The writers point to reports of misuse of drones, from smuggling drugs to interfering with firefighters, and say that "we are living in the proverbial wild West."
Drone aircraft are a natural fit for data-hungry precision agriculture, helping growers fine-tune their operations and maximize income, says private consulting group Informa, which estimates the gains at $12 an acre for corn, $2.60 for soybeans and $2.25 for wheat.
The FAA's proposed rules for drones are too restrictive for them to live up the farmers' hopes to search for stray cattle or monitor trouble spots in crops, says Reuters.
The government unveiled a set of rules for non-recreational use of drone aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds, and said it would take public comment on the proposal for 60 days. The proposal advances the possibility of using drones in agriculture.
In a CNN interview, President Obama called for regulations for drones to ensure "that we get the good and minimize the bad." The president commented one day after a two-foot wide drone crashed on the White House grounds.
Two crop specialists for Cornell Cooperative Extension have federal approval for an experiment of monitoring crops with a drone equipped with visual, thermal and multi-spectral cameras, says the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, New York.