Initially, at least, the most practical use for farmers will be to detect stress, regardless of the its cause. Growers can look at things like drainage, cover crops and various field conditions without actually getting into a field.

With all the rainfall this year, having that capability would have been a big help throughout much of the Southeast for much of the growing season.

In addition to the questions about licensing for flying one of these drones, another restriction for growers may be the cost, which can push $50,000. However, the cost is likely to come down, as is the case with most new technology.

And, there are plans in the works to have an online written test to acquire a license to fly a drone for crop scouting.

“Right now, I would say scouts are likely to be the first to put these drones into practical use. In the future, larger farming operations may have their own drones, but it’s likely that most will still rely on scouts to fly the planes, download the information they obtain and use that information to help growers put together farm plans,” Owen says.

The concept of using unmanned aircraft for agriculture isn’t something new. Unmanned aircraft have been used to spray crops in Japan for at least a decade and in parts of Australia for nearly that long.

The use of drones in agriculture is bolstered by the continued proliferation of farm size and the corresponding reduction in numbers of farmers.

No longer can a large acreage farmer know much about what is going in every one of their fields, Drones could change all that.

One possible application is to pin-point early damage to crops, giving growers a head start on correcting stress related problems, like early insect outbreaks or a disease occurring at an unusual time of the growing season.

Stress can be easily detected by low-flying drones using infra-red and near infra-red cameras. The same concept is used by a number of ground devices, like GreenSeeker.