Drones take off in agriculture industry - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Drones take off in agriculture industry

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Hundreds of farmers and agriculture professionals met in Paso Robles Friday for an annual conference to discuss how the industry can adapt to current conditions.

While water was the main focus of discussion, one of the most popular topics was emerging agriculture technology, specifically drones.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are a hot item in the tech industry and while it might seem like an unusual match, they are catching on in the agriculture industry as well.

Experts say 2015 is shaping up to be a breakthrough year for drones and the agriculture industry is one of the latest areas to explore this tool.

Chad Colby is one of the nation's leading experts in drone technology. As a Midwesterner who grew up in a farming community, he said he would like to see drones become a primary device in agriculture.

"You can buy a great little platform for $1000 and go out and fly over your field, your vineyard, wherever you're at," Colby said. "You can get imagery really quickly, look at the imagery on your tablet real fast and then make a decision...walk out and look at (your fields), it saves time."

In California's unprecedented drought, efficiency and accuracy is more important than ever.

The FAA is about two years away from establishing commercial guidelines for agricultural use but until then, farmers are learning how they could use this tool in their farming practices.

Tiffany Holmes is an agricultural professional from Stockton, California and she is interested in how she could use the new technology.

"If you have a spot on a ranch that maybe you can't get to with a vehicle, you can set up a drone and have it fly over and see stuff," Holmes said. "For large cattle ranches being able to see watering holes, stuff like that, and farmer managers and farmers I think it would be useful for them."

Colby flew his drone over an avocado orchard on the Central Coast Friday morning and said for the farmer, it was an eye opening experience.

"He said 'I've never seen my farm like this before'," Colby said. "Basically this technology allows you to see things in a way you've never seen before."

As drones increase in popularity, industry experts say prices will continue to drop thus making the new technology a very economical way for farmers to monitor crops.

Right now, farmers are able to use drones as hobbyists. It is one of the special distinctions, established in the FAA's latest guidelines.

Another option is to obtain a special license to operate drones through the FAA.

Colby said when the FAA regulations come out for commercial use, including agriculture, drones have the potential of becoming as commonplace on farms as tractors.


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