A close-up look at precision agriculture

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)

Drones are worth it, say farm users, but few growers plan to buy one

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.

The Hands-Free Hectare projects grows barley by remote control

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.

Orchard owners in China use drones to offset labor shortage

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 poised to make it illegal to harass livestock with drones

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.

California farmers harness drones to save water

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.

Pitching ag as high-tech career option for veterans

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."

Investment in ag-tech cools after record year in 2015

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.

Ground rules for small drones to benefit agriculture, says White House

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.

Licenses mandatory for small drones

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.