Backers say drones will prove useful for farmers

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Interest is growing in using unmanned drones to help
monitor millions of acres of crops.

Drones with infrared cameras and other sensors can help identify insect
problems and watering issues early. They can also help assess crop yields and
locate missing cattle.

The Des Moines Register reports (http://dmreg.co/1eBWqo3 ) that supporters
believe using drones on farms makes sense because the operations are generally
large and in rural areas.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts that 80
percent of the commercial use of drones will eventually be in agriculture.

Former Kansas State University professor Kevin Price said drones will let
farmers monitor their crops in ways they never have, and he expects nearly every
farm to start using the technology in the next decade.

``It is endless right now, the applications in agriculture,'' said Price, who
left the university this month to join RoboFlight, a Denver-based company that
sells drones and analyzes the data collected on corn, soybean and other field
crops.

Farmer Brent Johnson spent $30,000 on a drone last year to study how the
topography of his 900-acre central Iowa farm affects yields.

He said using the drone helps him decide whether to replant an area or avoid it
in the future.

``I'm always looking for an advantage, looking for how I can do things
better,'' Johnson said.

Drones can also help farmers determine how much pesticide, herbicide or
fertilizer to apply to specific areas of their fields.

Drones range in cost from $2,000 for a basic model to roughly $160,000 for a
military-style device.

Some farmers may try to operate their own drone, like Johnson has done, but
most are likely to hire companies with the expertise to operate the devices.

Privacy and safety concerns have been raised about the idea of businesses using
drones. But agricultural use of the devices could be more likely to gain
acceptance.

Gilbert Landolt has protested the way the U.S. military uses drones as part of
the Des Moines chapter of Veterans for Peace, but he's not opposed to
agricultural use as long as it's regulated properly.

``There are good uses for drones, I'm not saying there's not, but we need to
get a handle on it,'' Landolt said. ``If they had some type of control over it
and could do it in a way on a farm that makes sense, I don't have an issue with
that.''

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