MANY farmers and their advisors now use drone technology to help with the management of their crops – but current and forthcoming regulations means it’s a bit of a minefield.

So, farmers are being urged to fully understand the legal implications of drone use and seek training ahead of new, more exacting 2020 regulations.

The latest rules published on June 21 by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will require farmers to become more aware of how to deploy drones on their land. However, despite having been published, the EU unmanned aircraft regulations will not come into effect until July, 2020.

This gives farmers and other operators the opportunity to prepare for the proposed changes to drone use and now Cranfield University, a leader in aerospace research, will – via the Agrifood Training Partnership (AFTP) – be offering farmers, agronomists, and anybody likely to use drones in agriculture, the opportunity to learn how they can be used responsibly and effectively.

Dr Monica Rivas Casado, who will tutor a flexible e-learning online course entitled ‘Drones for crop production’, which starts on November 18, explained: “The use of drones in agriculture is increasing. However, regulations governing the use of drones in all areas are becoming more complex.

“It is, therefore, important that farmers understand how drones can benefit crop production whilst also being able to use drones within the regulations set out by the CAA.”

Research compiled by Price Waterhouse Coopers estimated that 76,233 drones will be used in the UK by 2030 and that more than a third of these will be used in agriculture.

Many farmers already use drones for crop spraying and health assessments and these use normal and thermal cameras to deliver a level of insight into field crop health that is not obvious to the eye.

“Drones offer farmers an opportunity to view crops quickly and efficiently. The efficiencies drones offer can save crops from disease and feedback vital information about how well crops are establishing,” added Dr Rivas Casado. “However, it is crucial that farmers understand how to deploy drones safely and effectively on their farm by being aware of these new regulations.”

In addition to being aware of CAA regulations, those on the course will also learn how drones can be applied in agriculture; how to differentiate between drones; and what software is available for crop monitoring. The course will cover how to interpret the data generated by drones and how this can be used to improve crop and land management.

Soil health, crop establishment and disease can all be assessed by evaluating drone data: “The projected increase in food demand, driven by climatic factors, increased populations and land shortage shows that accurate information regarding crop production is becoming increasingly important,” pointed out Dr Rivas Casado.

“This information will assist crop management decisions and improve farm productivity. Traditional crop monitoring methods, using ground survey and aerial photography, have limitations that the use of low cost, lightweight and easily deployable drones can overcome,” she concluded.