Will 2015 be the year of the drone?

In recent years most of the public have become familiar with drones and their vast array of uses. While most drones are used for military purposes, there are specific types of Unmanned Aircraft Systems that can be used commercially. However, the Federal Aviation Administration has stopped the use of commercial drones from progressing. With the promise of new policy, 2015 may be the year that drones are released to the public.

According to the FAA website, an “incremental approach” is being taken to integrate drones into the United States. Currently, only hobbyists and those who have been approved individually by the FAA are legally allowed to fly drones in U.S. airspace. However, at least 24 exemptions have been granted since the beginning of the year to individual companies seeking permission to use drones. One of the companies on the list is an agricultural company requesting to use their drone for precision agriculture. The FAA received 342 exemption requests as of January from companies looking to use a UAS.

To the average American, this sounds highly political and expensive. However, Bill Allen, MU assistant professor of science journalism, has had personal experience with drones, the FAA, and its strict regulations. In 2012, Allen developed a new course about drones. It was his initial intention to teach and give students experience with flying an actual drone., It wasn’t long before Allen found a notice in his mailbox from the FAA. After being instructed to immediately stop flying his drone at the school, Allen was forced to reevaluate the course’s objectives for the following year.

In the spring of 2013, Allen started his second drone course. Because the FAA only had objections to flying outdoors, he was able to teach students to fly the drone in Trowbridge Livestock Center. He challenged the students in his class to not only fly the drone, but also come up with original ideas for its use in the real world. Allen believes drones can provide the industry with pieces that are visually exciting.

While drones are appealing to the journalism industry, agriculture will also be able to reap the benefits of this technology. Many farmers and ranchers are turning to drones for innovative advancements in agriculture.

Jill Moreland, instructor of agriculture and applied economics at MU, believes drones offer many benefits to agriculture. She said that producers will be able to get a “bird’s eye view” to inspect the health of their crops. They will also able to pinpoint problematic areas within each field that could potentially limit yields. Moreland also said that, by using drones, the cost and time savings offered to the producer would be substantial. The lack of clear guidelines from the FAA – along with privacy issues – are the largest setbacks facing UAS.

The FAA is slowly granting exemptions, and on Feb. 15 proposed new rules for UAS. There is a 60-day public commenting period. According to the FAA website, current rules stay in place until these are approved.

Sarah Goellner

About the Author

My name is Sarah Goellner, and I am currently a science and ag journalism major at the University of Missouri. I received my associate degree from Moberly Area Community College before transferring to MU. I grew up in Palmyra, Missouri, with an older sister, Rebecca. Agriculture has deep roots in my family. My uncles’ and cousins’ farms surrounded my home, and I was always included in the daily activities. I was deeply involved 4-H and FFA throughout my childhood. I have always had an interest in writing and journalism. After graduation, I hope to be able to communicate and market the field of agriculture to a large audience. I am excited to work for Corner Post for the third semester because it will give me more experience needed to pursue my future career. I look forward to adding more stories to my portfolio in order to gain a career in the agricultural marketing field upon graduation.