agricultural drones

Drone Insurance
For any commercial activity, it’s a good idea to insure yourself against property damage, liability and lawsuits.

All you need to do is search “drone lawsuit” to prove it’s worth getting insured.

At Interdrone 2015, Scott Smith of SkySmith shared this example of what it costs to unsure a $20,000 drone (about the cost of a PrecisionHawk Lancaster):

Agriculture Drone Buyers Guide - Insurance example
Drone insurance example (courtesy Scott Smith)
To learn how to find insurance for an agriculture operation, read our buying guide, Drone Insurance: Where To Buy It & How Much To Get.

Options and Upgrades
Without going into detail, you should be aware that some of your system’s components can be upgraded or replaced if you don’t like what you’re currently using.

The most common components upgraded include:

Ground Control Station
RC Controller
Avoid changing image processing tools and services that have been designed with your hardware in mind. Something to think about when selecting your first drone.

Common Issues and Concerns
Flying a drone for agriculture involves many of the same issues facing consumer and other commercial drone operators. But there are a few gotchas unique to agriculture, especially when it comes to data and the EPA.

Privacy Laws
There’s a lot of noise in the media today about camera drones taking photos of people without their knowledge. Shotguns have been used to settle the score.

While this could happen on a farm, it’s unlikely.

Nevertheless, your neighbor’s home and fields are their property, and taking unauthorized images of them could violate local or state privacy laws. And state legislatures are on fire, when it comes to drones.

Nineteen US states (Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana,Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation. 6 other states have adopted resolutions.

In 2015 alone, 45 states have considered 156 bills related to drones.

So: make sure you check with a local lawyer to get the latest rules in your region.

Connectivity and Bandwidth
Millions of acres of farmland in the US have little to no online connectivity or cell coverage. If this includes some of your fields, then you need the ability to store captured images & data locally – in the drone or on a nearby ground station – and then upload them later on, when you get back to the office.

Systems such as AgOS by Agriworks operate under the assumption you may not have connectivity at all times.

Don’t choose a drone that requires a live connection to the internet to capture data; it just isn’t a good choice for agriculture.

Data Ownership
The image data generated by agriculture drones can be really useful for lots of people other than farmers.

The EPA, county officials, drone operators, land surveyors and land management officials can get a tremendous amount of value from your geotagged images – if they have access to them.

Some organizations can also do damage to a farm if they have access.

For this reason, ownership of data is a critical legal issue that needs to be dealt with upfront, via contract, whenever you:

hire someone to perform an aerial survey of your farm
process your images through a third party (software or service provider)
share or commingle your images with a third party
By default, the farmer/land owner should always retain full ownership of all data generated by drones flying over his/her property. Then, via contract, these rights can be granted to third parties on a need to know, exception basis.

Bottom line: you never want a third party to own your data.

FAA Regulation & Operator Certification
Flying drones for agriculture is always a commercial operation, according to the FAA.

By law, your drone operator must have FAA operator training and have their remote pilot certificate before they can operate a drone over your land.

If they are not properly certified to fly an unmanned aircraft, then you should not hire them nor let them operate a drone over your property – even if no money changes hands.

EPA Regulations
By law, the EPA has the right to access any and all data generated by drones flying over your property.

There’s nothing you can do about this. For this reason, data retention and storage policies are important to pay attention to.

Interference With Other Aircraft
Crop spraying and other manned aircraft may share the same airspace as an agriculture drone.

For this reason, it is important to file a flight plan with your local airport/FAA office before every drone flight.

Make sure your drone operators understand this, too.

Get Your Contracts Right
If you are a new agriculture surveyor or drone operator, then you need professional legal help when setting up your contracts to deal with the issues above (and more). DroneLaw.Pro offers operators contract templates, training videos and a unique “Ops In A Box” business setup kit.

If you operate a farm and are interested in hiring a drone surveyor, then make sure you know what a good contract looks like.