Farmers who looked up at this year’s Farm Science Review got a peek at their future.

Ohio State University doctoral student Matt McCrink, who studies mechanical and aerospace engineering, demonstrated his dissertation project — an unmanned aerial vehicle, better known as a drone. Farmers one day could use drones to scout their fields or spray pesticides.

Data collected by agricultural drones will contribute to precision agriculture, the practice of observing, measuring and responding to crop variability. Today, farmers collect data with combines and other technologies, which log crop yields and characteristics, such as moisture content.


The data help farmers figure out which parts of their fields need more fertilizer or less water so they can be more productive. In the future, this productivity could help solve problems such as world hunger.

“The idea is to build up a technical base and develop robust methods for operating (drones),” said McCrink, whose work will help the Federal Aviation Administration as it develops regulations for commercial operation of agricultural drones.

At the moment, farmers can’t hire somebody to “drone” their fields. They can, however, buy drone systems for use on their farms, said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro. Years from now, after FAA regulations are in place, companies such as Precision Drone of central Indiana could offer field scouting and other services on a commercial basis.

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