Drone use in U.S. agriculture is upon us. But there are still regulations to be passed and questions to be answered before the adoption of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) begins in earnest.

“UAVs have been used in Japan since 1990 for specific spot-spraying,” said Kaelin Hanks, Entira representative, at the Southern Cotton Ginners Association summer meeting in July 22. “We use them to send vaccines over to south Asia. They’re also used in South Africa to help stop the poaching of rhinos. Biologists also use them to monitor animals in their natural habitats.”

As an agricultural management consulting firm, Entira is very interested in the potential of UAVs. “We work with service providers, manufacturers, chemical companies, seed companies, producers and processors -- pretty much anyone in the agriculture industry.”

So what’s the future of UAVs?

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) has predicted that in the United States the UAV industry “will have an economic impact of $13.6 billion and will create 70,000 new jobs by 2017. By 2025, they project the number of jobs reaching 100,000 with an $82 billion impact…

“AUVSI predicts that 80 percent of the UAV commercial market will be in the agriculture industry through precision agriculture. By 2015, they see about 40,000 units being sold. By 2025, that number jumps to about 160,000 units.”

The available two types of UAVs – fixed-wing and rotary-wing – “are both equipped with cameras and are guided by GPS. They can travel along a fixed flight path or be controlled remotely.

“The rotary-wing UAVs can stay in flight for a shorter period of time. They might be more conducive to a spot-specific area. The fixed-wing UAVs are for longer flights -- maybe to map entire fields.”

What are UAVs being used for today?

“Well, they’re being used by the military. They can be used by government (agencies) for fire and rescue. They can be used to search for someone who is lost.”

In agriculture, “they’ll be used for field scouting, mapping and (bulk-) or spot-spraying. A great example of what they can do is in the citrus industry which must fight a fungus that actually starts in the tree-tops and progresses down the tree. UAV use can really help the citrus grower by early detection of that fungus.”