Farmers and others in the agricultural field traditionally call the act of scouting crops “walking the field.” Most farmers have to inspect and analyze hundreds of acres on foot, making it a time-consuming and labor intensive process that’s nearly impossible to do with 100% accuracy merely because of the size and scope of most commercial farms.
Using drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), allows farmers to capture data from the entire farm without taking a single step. As drones have become more accessible and affordable, using drones for crop scouting has become a viable and increasingly popular option to reduce the time and cost associated with collecting crop data.
And there’s a whole host of other agricultural uses for drones, as well.
It’s not surprising, however, that agricultural drones come with some regulatory, licensing, and insurance complications. If you’re thinking of investing in a drone for crops, it’s important to understand the new responsibilities that come along with it.
How are drones used in farming? Can you fly your agricultural drone without insurance? What else do you need to know about insuring drones for crops?
How Are Drones Used in Farming?
Agricultural drones allow farmers to increase efficiency in various aspects of the farming process. Drones can erase the need for guesswork in much of modern farming, giving farmers the ability to maximize yields and increase efficiency.
As the accessibility of drones has increased, prices have gone down, leading to a boom in the use of drones for agricultural applications. In addition to crop monitoring, some examples of common uses of agricultural drones include:
- Scouting land and crops
- Checking for weeds and spot treating plants
- Monitoring crop health
- Managing livestock and monitoring for health issues
How to Fly Your Agricultural Drone Legally
If you’re going to fly a commercial drone for your farm, you need to first understand the rapidly changing regulatory environment to ensure that you are flying your drone legally. In June 2016, the FAA finalized new regulations for small unmanned aerial vehicles. The new regulations, titled Part 107, create a process for commercial drone pilots to be certified. You must complete a variety of tasks to be certified, including:
- Pass a basic aeronautical knowledge test (followed by recurrent testing every 24 months)
- Receive clearance from the Transportation Security Administration
- Obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating
- Be at least 16 years old
The FAA also put in place additional documentation and pre-flight safety requirements in order to maintain your Part 107 certification. In order to operate a commercial UAV, any organization or government entity must obtain the Part 107 certification, or must obtain an FAA waiver for flights that meet certain criteria.
In addition to federal regulations, many states and municipalities are enacting their own drone laws. While the FAA asserts its authority over drones because it regulates all airspace, any smart commercial drone operator should understand and carefully follow local drone regulations as well, in order to avoid fines and other penalties.
You will probably need to provide proof of your FAA certification in order to obtain commercial UAV insurance. What’s more, be prepared for the insurance company to have more stringent safety requirements than those required by the FAA. Your insurance company may require proof that you use trained and experienced pilots, have implemented standard operating procedures, and regularly use spotters to assist your pilots, and that pilots adhere to all safe distance (from persons and property) recommendations.
Can I Fly My Agricultural Drone without Insurance?
Commercial drone insurance is not required in the US for recreational or commercial drone users, including agricultural users. That does not, however, negate the myriad legal and insurance-related concerns you should have if you plan to fly an agricultural drone. Operating a drone presents many risks to your business and the general public.
After all, drones can cause serious damage to property and can injure individuals on the ground. Even the best drone operator can run into bad weather or experience a malfunction of the UAV.
What’s more, how you collect and use data with your drone and who has access to that data can be even bigger concerns for commercial drone operators. Invasion of privacy claims are becoming more common and are expected to be even more prevalent along with increasing drone use.
As commercial drone use quickly expands, the insurance industry is responding. While there is no indication that commercial drone insurance will be required by law in the near future, failing to speak to your insurance agent about how to best cover your drone could have devastating consequences for your agribusiness.
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Insuring Agricultural Drones
Your other farm insurance policies will not cover claims related to aviation. If you intend to fly a drone for agricultural purposes, you need special commercial UAV insurance.
Your agricultural drone insurance should protect your assets if your UAV damages property or injures someone. In addition, your drone business insurance should protect your investment if your drone is damaged and needs to be repaired or replaced.
Here are some common types of coverage included in agricultural UAV insurance policies:
- Drone liability coverage: Covers costs related to property damage or injuries caused by a commercial UAV operation.
- Drone hull coverage: Covers costs of physical damage to a UAV.
- Onboard components coverage: Covers costs of physical damage to a drone’s onboard accessories, such as cameras or DSLR.
- Ground equipment coverage: Covers costs of physical damage to ground equipment used to operate the drone, such as ground stations, laptops, UAV cases, remote controllers, and so on.
- Non-owned drone liability coverage: Optional liability coverage designed for businesses that operate UAVs that they do not own.
- Personal injury liability coverage: Covers libel, slander, violation of privacy, and copyright infringement claims related to commercial drone operation.
The drone insurance market is evolving along with rapidly changing drone technology and how drones are being used. The types of coverage you need and the amount of coverage you need will vary based on a variety of factors such as:
- Your drone(s): The more expensive your drone or fleet of drones, the more coverage you need to protect your investment. Likewise, more expensive onboard equipment requires more extensive coverage.
- The type of work you do: Farmers that rely heavily on drone operations will need more coverage.
Where to Find Agricultural Drone Insurance
A local independent insurance agent experienced in aviation-related insurance for businesses is the best place to start searching for agricultural drone insurance. In this evolving market, coverage offerings may vary significantly from one carrier to another.
Independent agents can work with multiple insurance companies, so they can find the right coverage options for your agricultural drone operations.
Start your search for a local independent agent now.