Good or bad? What drones mean for farming and the countryside…
Already used by more than 18% of UK agricultural businesses, drones are changing the way we can grow crops and tend livestock, but what are the long-term implications?
What are drones?
Drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – are, as the name suggests, essentially sophisticated remote-controlled aircraft. They can range in size from just a few centimetres up to 14 metres, but in most cases are just over half a metre long.
The term ‘drone’ was coined in reference to the small aircraft used for the target practice of battleship guns in the 1920s. Although most people will have first heard of drones in connection with military use overseas, they are now being utilised more frequently for routine tasks much closer to home.
Agriculture is one area where they have proved to be incredibly valuable, undertaking myriad tasks such as soil analysis, targeted application of pesticides and fertilisers, storm tracking, safety reporting, pollution control and air monitoring.
First used by farmers in Japan in the 1980s, specifically designed ‘agricultural drones’ are now available with a huge variety of functions and capabilities – basic models cost just £50, while more state-of-the-art devices can exceed tens of thousands of pounds.
Why are drones in the news?
Due to improvements in technology and competitive pricing over the past five years, the use of agricultural drones in this country has increased dramatically and concerns about the risk they pose to safety and privacy has grown with it.
During this period, the number purchased hasn’t been monitored, so it’s difficult to quantify that growth. However, last year a farm in the UK was the first in the world to successfully plant, tend and harvest a 4.5 tonne crop of barley without a single person ever setting foot in the field.
The Hands Free Hectare Project, as it was known, was undertaken by engineers at Harper Adams University, who hope to repeat its success this summer. Although this project, as well as others, demonstrates the benefits of using agricultural drones, issues are being raised in relation to the lack of legislation and regulations.
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