Iowa Agriculture Could Benefit Under New FAA Drone Rules

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MANSON, Iowa-The FAA's new regulations covering drone flight has met positive reaction by one Iowa company using drones to serve customers. Brent Johnson of Labre Crop Consulting of Manson uses a fix wing drone to capture crop data for customers fields. After reviewing the new rules Johnson said he was pleased.

"I didn't find a negative surprise in the rules," said Johnson. He said a big positive was the FAA relaxed on altitude, they would be able to fly 500 feet in the air, rather than 400.

The farmers have data they get from the seed planter, and then data comes in from combine yield monitors, but until drones there had been no way of finding out how the crop was doing in mid-life cycle, between planting and harvest.

"We didn't have a way of collecting information on the digital level," said Johnson. "By the process of elimination we ended up in the drone industry as one of the ways of delivering that technology."

Johnson said it has been a two-year project getting the drone and camera technology to deliver the information he was looking for.  Without the FAA rules, they could not build revenue into their business, which was generated by the services a drone can provide. In the meantime, Johnson has been busy getting ready to use the drone once approval came.

"Trying to build the capabilities and the knowledge base behind it, so when we do have authority to go out and collect that information, we'd be ready," said Johnson. Now Johnson's drone has a camera that can take infra-red shots which can reveal much about plant health.  Each flight can be pre-programmed into his laptop, and onboard the drone, so he doesn't fly it in real-time, unless he wants to.  The fixed wing drone can cover a lot of ground, about 80 acres in half and hour.

"It's a huge opportunity for precision agriculture," said Johnson speaking on the new rules.  "This is a tool that can absolutely help our farmers make better decisions.