Agronomist claims drones could revolutionize agriculture

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COLUMBIA - Students and farmers flocked to the MU Agriculture Technology Fair Thursday to learn about innovations at the forefront of the industry, including controversial drone technology to monitor plants.

Professor of Plant Sciences, Bill Wiebold, gave a presentation on how farmers could use drones to improve crop yields. 

"They would make farmers more efficient in their use of time and resources," Wiebold said.

Drones would allow farmers to take videos and pictures of crops from an aerial view. With different sensory technology, such as infrared, specialists can identify which crops might need extra care.

However, Wiebold said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has imposed regulations that keep farmers from taking advantage of this new technology.

"The FAA controls these and only allows for hobby and recreational use," Wiebold said. "So, I'm using it as a hobbyist but also understanding how these things fly, learning how to fly them, getting better expertise and just trying to understand how farmers might be able to use them in the future when regulations change."

Farmers currently are not allowed to use drones to make management decisions because drones are banned from commercial use.

Wiebold said the FAA is hesitant to allow the use of drones because they could distract pilots or cause collisions. He also said there are privacy concerns.

"Privacy is something farmers would have to be aware of because you can, in fact, see what people are doing outside the fence lines of the property someone uses," Wiebold said.

Wiebold also said privacy should not be a concern when deciding regulations because farmers are just concerned with their own crops.