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Rules keep farmers grounded

There's excitement, tinged with frustration, in the air these days when you look at the world of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. In agriculture, there's growing interest in low-altitude machines that can capture real-time information about crop growth, irrigation pivots, drainage and more.

Trouble is the Federal Aviation Administration is holding up the show. Sure, farmers can buy a UAV system and operating it over their farms to gather images and information. And that's fun, but you can't hire a consultant to fly his/her UAV over your farm to gather the information and help you  make decisions. That's illegal.

But market forces are at work, and there's action in the courts as well to get the ball rolling. An early March court decision reversing an FAA fine against a film-maker offers hope that perhaps rules could come earlier than the Congress-mandated 2015. We'll see what happens.

In the meantime, farmers who want to know more about these high-flying data gatherers were crowding into meetings across the country over the winter. And this summer you'll have a chance to do the same.

And we've done our part to help keep you up to date on the latest tools in this area too.

However, this lack of rules and the inability for companies to deploy these systems means regulations are holding back commerce. A conversation with a company that installs drainage systems that also help irrigate cropland showed one area where UAV systems would make a big difference. The company needs to do mapping of fields to install the systems to work, and manually doing that is time-consuming. However, flying a UAV over the field would allow them to generate the map quickly and allow them to deploy their system efficiently for farmers and more accurately.

Trouble is, they can't do that with UAVs because of FAA limits on the profiting from system use. Their business is being held back and an innovative idea is slowed as well. Perhaps that lawsuit where FAA didn't get to charge their fine will get the ball rolling to move this tech ahead. There are safety issues to be sure - but in open farm country - we should have some room to move on the issue.

UAV Show

Warning, shameless promotion ahead: Farm Industry News is one of the media sponsors for the Precision Aerial Ag Show set to for July 9 and 10 in Decatur, Ill. at Progress City USA. That's the site where the Farm Progress Show is held every other year (this year Farm Progress Show is in Boone, Iowa).

The show aims to bring a host of experts in for seminars to discuss a range of key topics impacting the idea of UAV use. And there will be exhibitors on hand with the vehicles themselves. The best part of of this event is that it will be outdoors; which means there will be some flying at the event so you can see the different approaches to the technology in action.

The show schedule is shaping up and you can keep up on what's happening by visiting

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