Campbellsport store carries drones
Exponential growth in ag drones expected

By GAY GRIESBACH - For the Daily News

March 17, 2015

Rural residents may soon hear the whir of rotors mixing with the guttering sound of sandhill cranes over Wisconsin fields.

Riesterer and Schnell, one of the largest John Deere dealerships started carrying drones about a year ago.

The company has a dozen stores, including one in Campbellsport.

Todd Vogel, integrated solutions director at Riesterer and Schnell said when it comes to agricultural uses, drones can increase efficiency, yield, save time and money.

“In the past, farmers would go into their fields to see differences. Now they’re able to ‘fly’ the field and see what areas are good and bad, where there are water drainage problems and nutrient deficiencies,” Vogel said.

Costs of the unmanned aircraft systems can range from $1,000 to $21,000 depending on the quality of the drone and its capabilities.

Vogel said before they take off a computerized flight pattern can be created that allows the drone to take off and land in the same spot.

In flight, cameras take pictures of the field and that information is then downloaded to a computer program that stitches the photos together and creates a complete picture of the field.

That composite, in turn, can be used to create a prescription map that allows for more efficient application of fertilizer or can suggest insect infestations that can then be checked at ground level.

Vogel said a few farmers in Wisconsin are using the technology, but Adam Sheller, director of sales at Precision Drone in Indiana expects growth in the use of agricultural drones to be “exponential” in the next five years.

The Indiana company sells drones in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Precision Drone has received the most interest in their product in Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, “anywhere there is a lot of pivot irrigation,” Sheller said.

“If they can use less water to grow more corn, it will be beneficial for people that want to become more efficient farmers,” Sheller said.

Right now, there are no other regulations other than those governing remote controlled (RC) units that have been around since the 1950s, Sheller said.

In the past five years the capabilities that benefit the agricultural sector of the market have been steadily developing.

“An RC works up to a quarter-mile away — that’s it. (Drones) are all autopilot driven and the Precision camera system is state-of-the-art when it comes to detecting crop health,” Sheller said.

Drones are regulated under hobby laws that have been in effect since 1981 — the drone must be kept within the operator’s eyesight, fly under 400 feet and can’t be piloted at night. If operated within five miles of an airport clearance must be obtained, but Sheller said they are legal to fly without obtaining a pilot’s license.

Sheller sees new rules proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration as reasonable and responsible, even though companies banking on drone-delivered goods might object.

Those rules would allow unmanned aircraft systems to be flown as high as 500 feet, but they still must be within sight of the operator and flown during daylight hours.

A new operator’s certification would be required and users would have to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.

The proposed regulations are open for questions and comments and the timeline suggests a law may be enacted by 2016.