There’s a new eye in the sky in the Texas Panhandle, and it’s helping monitor the electric lines. Southwestern Public Service is exploring the use of drones. SPS’s parent company, Xcel Energy, has permission to use the technology. Wes Reeves is the spokesman for SPS. He says there are some clear advantages of drone use in the rough panhandle terrain. Reeves says air assessment also has distinct advantages in disasters like the 2014 Fritch wildfire. The Federal Aviation Administration approved Xcel’s request earlier this month. The company will use the drones to survey transmission and distribution lines, power plants, renewable energy facilities, substations, and natural gas pipelines it has in other regions.

In eastern Colorado, some farmers are breaking the law flying drones to pinpoint which parts of their fields need fertilizer, water, weed killer, or seed. Jean Hediger is one of the law breakers. The 60 some year old farmer says she has pure intentions, and preventing use of this technology is keeping farmers in the dark ages. Those who risk using the drones without permission from federal authorities could face penalties of thousands of dollars… up to 27 thousand dollars. That might change- soon. The Federal Aviation Administration proposed new rules in February allowing people to fly small unmanned aircraft for commercial reasons. Drone operators would have to be certified and keep their devices in sight during flight. Currently, the FAA allows farmers and other to apply for exemptions. About 300 have been granted, but the process is lengthy.. and there are about 1,000 people already on the waiting list.

On a breezy morning next to a cornfield in rural Weld County, Colo., Jimmy Underhill quickly assembles a black and orange drone with four spinning rotors.

"This one just flies itself," he says. "It's fully autonomous."

Underhill is a drone technician with Agribotix, a Colorado-based drone startup that sees farmers as its most promising market. Today he's training his fellow employees how to work the machine in the field.

L. Brian Stauffer / www.news.illinois.edu

The FAA’s proposed rules for flying drones pose a basic problem for rural users.  The rules are based on two purposes of use, hobby versus commercial, rather than where the drone is being flown, a wide open rural area versus near an urban airport.  Consequently, many potential rural uses such as checking crops or inspecting powers lines will fall under the proposed commercial rules applied to all areas of the U.S.

Lima Pix/Flickr

An independent journalist says he’s found a way around the so-called “ag-gag” laws – flying drones over large livestock operations to document animal welfare problems and pollution.

Will Potter, a Washington D.C.-based environmental blogger, raised $75,000 on Kickstarter to buy drones and other equipment to do investigative work tracking animal abuse and pollution problems on large livestock operations.

Drones: Coming soon to a farm near you?

Mar 24, 2014
Peter Gray/Harvest Public Media

Unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t just for spies or for the battlefield. Farmers all over the country think drones can give them a leg up, too.

Tech-savvy farmers have been waiting for years for the government to make up its mind about the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Right now, anyone flying a drone for business instead of as a hobby is actually breaking federal law. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees U.S. airspace, says it plans to roll out rules for drones this year.

Drones Used To Diagnose Diseased Wheat Fields

Dec 10, 2013
Kay Ledbetter / Texas A&M AgriLife Research

Dr. Charlie Rush is a plant pathologist at Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Amarillo.  He’s partnered with Ian Johnson, a Montana State University-Bozeman graduate student, who’s using his work in the university’s Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program to help conduct research using a helicopter drone according to AgriLife.


Deer Trail, Colorado has postponed voting on drone hunting until December 10 reported the Denver Post.  Mayor Frank Fields said the previous date was too close to the November election.

Deer Trail residents will be deciding upon approval of an ordinance allowing unmanned aircraft to be shot down.  

Drones: New High Plains Hunting Sport?

Oct 23, 2013

There could be a new kind of hunting season on the high plains, and the object of the hunter’s focus?  Drones. 

Drones are flying objects, typically equipped with cameras.  They range in size, up to several feet across.  The number of blades vary, and they are built and operated primarily by hobbyists and others for personal use.  Video is a large part of the appeal, allowing life to be seen from another perspective.