On its seven-state tour, featuring presentations on drone use in agriculture and test flight demonstrations, the Drone Uses for Agriculture Roadshow made its stop in Hillsboro, N.D., on Friday, Aug. 2.

Presented by Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus and UND, the event, held at Total Ag Industries located at 801 W. Caledonia Ave. in Hillsboro, drew about 50 attendees. The purpose of the event was to provide a forum for farmers, crop service providers and others to discuss how drones can provide value in agriculture and also why agriculture industries have been somewhat slow to adopt the use of drones.

“To be determined,” said Trevor Witt, a UAS sensing specialist at the University of Kansas Polytechnic campus. “I’ve seen the technology get really hyped up and really oversold and all the amazing things it can do, and we really haven’t seen that to the extent that it was predicted.”

There are areas where drones are being used for agricultural purposes, especially in smaller high value operations, such as vineyards and orchards. Research and data collection are also areas where drones are providing value to farmers. Mapping, a process where a drone scouts a field to determine where more fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide is needed, has proven to be effective.

“On the research scale, for remote sensing, doing great, some of the technology that is out now, when it comes to data-on-the-edge, actually getting that data to that farmer or crop consultant right after they map the field, so they can make a decision that day; that technology is here now and it really just needs to get into the right hands of people,” said Witt.

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John Nowatzki, an agricultural machines specialist at North Dakota State University, also presented at the roadshow about data management for farmers and how drones are a part of that.

“We try to help them get all their data and manage their field. We use the drones only as one part of it. The other part is the soil data, the yield data at the end of the year, and we always use satellite imagery, too,” Nowatzki said.

Nowatzki noted that most of the drones being used in agriculture now are used for scouting.

“We’re showing them how to fly the whole field and take the data and process it into a map that can be used for where to fertilize and how much,” he said.

Weed management is also an area for drone use in agriculture.

“You can fly the field, get a map of where the weeds are, and you can send the sprayer to those locations,” said Nowatzki, adding that a heavy focus is placed on herbicide resistant weeds that can be spot-sprayed by a drone.

One of the reasons as to why this technology has been slow to adapt is regulatory. Currently, drones are limited to flying commercially only if they are less than 55 pounds.

“With small drones, it takes an hour just to fly one field. A farmer might have 50 fields, and he needs the information tomorrow. So that’s why farmers haven’t adapted,” Nowatzki said.

This regulatory hurdle is also why current agricultural drone use has developed primarily as a scouting tool -- where to place fertilizer or spray for weeds, or in the case of ranchers, counting cattle. Until the regulatory hurdle is changed.

“We flew last year, the year before and the year before that, a large drone out of the Hillsboro airport, 35-foot wingspan, then we could collect 100,000 acres in an hour. The point is, then you could collect all of the county in a day and supply that out to farmers as you need it,” Nowatzki said.

“Until the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) changes that and allows people to use large drones, then it’s going to be a small (drone) thing,” said Nowatzki, of the current state of drone use in agriculture.