Forward-thinking farmers are now using drones to help with the maintenance of their farms, but it is important that they understand the responsibilities and legal requirements that come with their use.
Drones are an efficient use of technology to remotely monitor what is happening on a farm. They can be utilised to review and assess crops, deliver precise application of treatments and keep an eye on livestock. More advanced models employ thermal imaging and time-lapse photography to help monitor crop development, pin-point areas of disease or drought, and provide data on soil conditions.
According to guidelines drawn up by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Rural Police, a farmer using a drone to review his own farmland must have Third Party Liability insurance cover, but because such use is not classed as non-recreational flight, no operational or commercial permission is required.
However, if a farmer charges a fee to a neighbour to fly the drone over their land to survey their crops or livestock, or passes data from his drone to third parties, this is classed as a commercial operation, and requires a Permission for Commercial Operations (PCO) and commercial insurance cover. The PCO involves taking an in-depth course on drone usage and regulation, and can cost around £1,000. Completion of the course will allow registration with the CAA, which must be renewed annually.
Using a drone commercially without PCO accreditation can incur heavy fines and a possible prison sentence for serious infringements of the flying regulations.
Please note: This article is a commentary on general principles and should not be interpreted as advice for your specific situation.