The Future Of Farming: U.S. Approves Drones For Crop Dusting

The approval marks the first time an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of carrying a payload has been given the OK to commercially fly in the U.S.

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A large drone capable of carrying tanks of fertilizers and pesticides for farming was given approval Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Yamaha RMAX is the first drone weighing more than 55 pounds to be approved in the U.S., according to Bloomberg. Smaller drones had previously been approved by the FAA to take photos for farmers.

The drones are capable of spraying crops with more precision than a traditional tractor, which reduces costs, and potential pesticide exposure to workers who might have otherwise sprayed the crops.

The RMAX unmanned helicopter weighs about 141 pounds empty and can carry a load of fertilizers and pesticides that weigh up to 61 pounds, according the FAA's waiver.

The drones are capable of spraying crops with more precision than a traditional tractor, which reduces costs, and potential pesticide exposure to workers who might have otherwise sprayed the crops.

The unmanned vehicles are also capable of accessing areas that are usually hard to reach, though it must stay at least 500 feet away from bystanders.

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In Japan, the RMAX and its predecessor have been used on rice farms for over 20 years and are currently responsible for spraying 40% of fields, Gizmag reported.

The RMAX also gained approval in Australia from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), and is flown in South Korea by farmers, according to Ars Technica.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis have tested the RMAX on Napa vineyards, especially in areas with terrain usually unsuitable for crop-dusting.

"A vehicle like this gives you a way to get in and get out and get that treatment done," said Ken Giles, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California, Davis, according to the Associated Press.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Katsu Nakamura, sky division manager for Yamaha USA, moves the RMAX before a demonstration at the University of California, Davis' Oakville Station test vineyard.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at michelle@buzzfeed.com.

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