By Wendy Beswick
FINCH — Few farmers have drones but they have now become a cost-effective tool that can save farmers time and money by providing real-time aerial assessments of crops, according to Scott Fife of Fife Agronomics Inc. of Finch.
“I use it for crop scouting,” says Fife. “Often you see things from the air that you would have never seen otherwise and you would never have thought to look for. It makes problems a lot easier to identify.”
The drone, or unmanned air vehicle (UAV), is cutting-edge technology, just now reaching a more affordable price range and the number of farmers owning a drone is expected to explode this year. Fife was one of the first in Eastern Ontario to purchase his DJI Phantom 2 UAV, considered to be an entry-level hobbyist model suitable for most farmers.
“You can get a drone like mine for $1,500 to $2,000 for crop scouting,” says Fife. “It’s just as useful a tool as any of the other tools that cost more. So I don’t think $2,000 for a UAV is that bad.”
However, farmers need to know that drones are not like model aircraft but are actually considered aircraft under the Canadian Aviation Regulations. The farmer who buys one is bound by a stringent set of aviation regulations to ensure the safety of the public.
Drone flyers are considered pilots and must be at least 18 years old, be medically fit, have an understanding of Transport Canada’s policies, have a working knowledge of air space, be able to read aeronautical charts and understand how weather will affect drone performance to get permission to fly a drone, says Brad Weaver, of EyeUp Drone Media in Ottawa, who provides drone service for weddings, events and even agricultural work.
“He should take a (two-day) entry level UAV ground school course so he can be a licensed UAV pilot,” he says. Then the farmer can seek permission to fly by applying for Transport Canada’s Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). Without an SFOC, fines range from up to $5,000 for an individual to $25,000 for a company.
“It’s not mandated that people have their UAV license as of right now,” says Weaver. But they do need the SFOC certificate.
“But it’s coming, and once again, it just allows individuals to be safe. Anyone can go out and buy a car, but that does not mean he is legally allowed or capable to drive that car.”
Many farmers are under the mistaken impression that they can fly the drone to their neighbouring farm if the machine has the range and battery life. However, the drone must be kept in visual line of sight with the naked eye at all times, not through binoculars, an on-board camera, monitor, or smart phone. It may be flown only during daylight hours, with good weather and visibility. Pilots must respect the privacy of others. Permission must be granted to fly over private property or take videos or photos. “All UAV operators have to maintain line of sight,” says Weaver. “Yes, the UAV can fly up to 1,000 feet and many kilometers away, but, in Canada, that is illegal. Also, you need to ask permission to fly over private land and that is what people do not understand.”
The rapid developments in the drone industry has taken everyone by surprise The Canadian government is scrambling to develop and enforce legislation for the burgeoning business. “The planes hit the market before the rules did,” Weaver says.