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UAVs a new tool for agriculture

Auto-piloted tractors guided by global positioning systems (GPS) were the link that connected Precision Ag Partners of Carlisle to… What does one call them? Chris East, one of the business owners, is reluctant to use the term “drone” for the remote-controlled flying cameras the company uses.

“That’s not what these are,” he remarked Tuesday before a visit by U.S. Senator John Boozman. The visit was part of Boozman’s agricultural tour of the state during the summer recess of Congress.

“What got us into this is the GPS; actually it is repairing them is what did it. Otherwise, we would not have picked it up,” he remarked.

Farmers were buying the relatively inexpensive, easy-to-get systems for a convenient overhead view of their land, but quickly wrecked them. “There’s no support for these anywhere, so they brought them to us to see about getting them fixed,” East said.

Precision Ag Partners provides land leveling using tractors guided by GPS-linked autopilots, and has the training and facilities to repair the high-tech systems.

It was this involvement that led to the company developing its own GPS guided, gyroscopically stabilized system. Before flying, the system is programmed with the coordinates of the land and the height to which it may go, “And it will not go past that,” East said.

“If I let go of the controls, it just stops where it’s at and hovers. I can go away and come back 15 minutes later and it will still be there, waiting,” he said.

For farmers in the area, there is one main reason for the overhead views, “Water management,” East said.

The overhead view shows how much of the field is covered, where the water is going, and when to stop the water; it is all about conservation, using the water wisely, he said.

East, Scott Laine, Michael John Gray of Augusta and others met with Boozman to discuss concerns about pending federal regulation of the systems.

Boozman said he asked for the meeting after hearing of the use of “UAVs” in agriculture and of Precision Ag Partners. “There will have to be some regulation, if just for safety. But we don’t want it to get to the point it keeps people like farmers from getting the most out of this technology,” Boozman said.

Laine said he felt it should fall along the line given radio-controlled model enthusiasts. “What they have is a lot bigger and faster than what we have here, and they are self-governed,” he remarked.

East said safety is one of the considerations that led to the design of their own system. The busy traffic of aerial applicators has to be a consideration.

All it takes is a touch of a switch and the system simply falls to the ground.

“We have them operating over water most of the time, so we made it waterproof. We just pick it up, shake it off and turn it back on,” he remarked.

Gray said that accounts of irresponsible use of the systems should not be an excuse to “regulate it to the point that honest people can’t use it.”

“After a while you are just keeping honest people honest,” Gray said. “People who would use them that way would still be using them.”

After the meeting, Boozman was taken to Tidwell’s Flying Service at Carlisle for a demonstration of the system.

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