Symposium at Agricenter focuses on use of drones in agriculture

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — New technology has farmers buzzing. Drones now have a place down on the farm.

More than 200 folks got a firsthand look at how drones can help with crop quality and yield at the inaugural Delta AgTech Symposium at the Agricenter.

They also found out the FAA isn’t expected to have a clear ruling on the use of drones until September 2015. But that didn’t stop interest in drones and what they can do from being sky-high.

Tuesday at the Agricenter, it sounded like a thousand irritated bumble bees were loose. But the noise was coming from a drone hovering over one of the Agricenter’s demonstration fields.

Drones could soon be hovering over a farm near you, gathering data to help farmers increase productivity.

However, getting permission to operate one of the unmanned aerial vehicles is harder than singing “E-I E-I O.”

Kelli Polatty, an associate with Entira, Inc., said interest in the battery-powered, propeller driven, remote-controlled drones is high, but use is strictly controlled.

“Currently commercial and civil use is not allowed. So, unless you have an exemption or a certificate, COA, certificate of authorization. And that would be through the FAA,” said Polatty.

Learning more about government regulation was the focus of the Delta AgTech Symposium.

Pat Lohman, Chief Operating Officer of PrecisionHawk, said he’s been hearing from both sides of the issue.

“I think,at the end of the day, everyone’s very upset about the regulations. But we have to look at this thoughtfully. We have to make sure that these things are safe,” said Lohman.

PrecisionHawk is presently the only firm with a FAA approved certificate of authorization.

It allows the company to fly its drones over farmland and gather crop information through sophisticated software.

Lohman said PrecisionHawk invested heavily in research and safety to get the government green-light.

“We’ve put a lot of time and effort behind making sure they are happy with our platform and they’re happy with how we are going about things,” said Lohman.

It may be September 2015 before the FAA has a hard set of rules on who can operate a drone and where it can legally fly.

Matt Sanders, an agricultural consultant from Lexington,Tennessee, said most farmers are in favor of drones and are ready to see them in action sooner rather than later.

Sanders said data collected by a drone can help a farmer determine what part of his crop is doing well and what part isn’t.

“Farmland is decreasing, so in order to feed the world, we’ve got to maximize our yield per acre,” said Sanders.



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