Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 October 2018

The good and the bad of drones – what you need to know for your farm

While flying and operating a drone may initially seem easy, there are certain rules and legislation in Ireland which must be adhered to.
While flying and operating a drone may initially seem easy, there are certain rules and legislation in Ireland which must be adhered to.

Robin Brennan, Zurich Insurance

Technology within the farming industry is evolving at a rapid pace, with new smart devices bringing about major change to long established traditional farming methods.

One of the most significant recent advancements regarding such technology is the drone, otherwise known as a small unmanned aircraft or remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).

Within the farming industry, early adopters have already realised positive agricultural benefits associated with the use of drones, in everyday activities ranging from:

  • Precision agriculture and accurate data: increased efficiency in planting, measuring, scanning and monitoring development of crops, reducing costly and hazardous spraying of fertilisers and pesticides.
  • Soil and field analysis: producing 3D maps and thermal imagery for early soil analysis.
  • Livestock: tracking, herding of livestock and shepherding of sheep.

Drone usage in a farming context has taken the spotlight in recent months, but not necessarily for their farming benefits. Burglaries are one negative adaptation of the new technology, where drones are allegedly used to scope out farm properties and machinery as possible targets.

Whether they’re used to farmers’ benefit or detriment, it is certain that as drones become more hi-tech and accessible, their influence within farming is sure to increase. And, as use becomes more widespread within a farming context, so too will the legal obligations and implications.

Health and safety at work

The risk of personal injury or damage is increased with the use of drones, as with any technology in its infancy, and those who control it are responsible for identifying safety hazards and risks.

However, the use of technology and drones could also be explored to help minimise risk or prevent unnecessary farm accidents. For instance, could the use of drones lead to reduced accidents arising from quads in herding livestock in difficult terrain?

Also Read

Legislation governing drone operation

While flying and operating a drone may initially seem easy, there are certain rules and legislation in Ireland which must be adhered to. This is especially true if you want to operate a drone over 1kg in weight, which realistically is the case for all models suitable for agricultural use.

The legislation governing drones and their use is primarily regulated by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), and the main points include:

  • All drones over 1kg must be registered with IAA. This includes the weight of the battery and all attached equipment.
  • Certain limitations apply that restricts the legal operation of a drone:
  • No further than 300m away from the person operating the drone.
  • No more than 122m above ground level or within 5km of an aerodrome or airport.
  • Not over urban built up areas or a crowd.
  • Within 120m of another house unless permission has been granted from the owner.
  • Do not use if it will be a hazard to another aircraft in flight.

If you wish to fly your drone outside the limits prescribed you must first attend a drone safety training course to obtain a special licence on top of your registration. We’ve included a link here for a list of drone training facilities.

Data protection

A growing area of concern is farmers using drones, who may unwittingly infringe on data protection requirements depending on the nature of the use. It is important that farmers are aware that improper drone use may infringe privacy or breach confidentiality of others.

Machines equipped with technologies such as cameras, thermal imaging, GPS, altimeter, motion, radio frequency equipment and other sensors should only collect information that is necessary for achieving the lawful purpose being pursued by the person controlling them.

For example, a camera on a drone which serves to take aerial photographs of landscapes should not be used for recording faces or other personal information.

While the drone has not yet signalled the permanent retirement of the humble sheepdog just yet, if you currently use or are planning to use a drone within your farm enterprise, you should contact your insurer or broker to ensure you have adequate third party liability cover in place or an insurance solution which meets your needs.

Zurich Insurance plc is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.

Online Editors

Get the latest news from the FarmIreland team 3 times a week.

More in Agri-Business