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Drones take off for business

Gareth Taylor looks at how drones are becoming increasingly valuable tools on farms and estates and examines the pros and cons of buying your own.

Many of our clients are using drones effectively to:

  • Inspect high buildings and roofs (cheaper and quicker than scaffolding or hiring a cherry picker).
  • Inspect remote fence lines.
  • Inspect damage to crops and riverbanks during floods and snow.
  • Assess crop coverage to accurately apply fertilisers.

A drone can cost as little as 1,000 and many farms and estates are considering buying their own. However, before doing so, there are several things to consider:

Quality: Drones vary massively in quality and price, especially with regard to the equipment mounted on their undercarriage.

Licenses: Anyone can own and use a drone provided it weighs less than 20kg and is flown no higher than 400 metres and no further than 500 metres from you (and within direct eyesight). Drones must not be flown within 50 metres of buildings or land owned by third parties. However, you must have a license is you are using a drone to provide a service or if you're using it for any commercial purpose, which would include any farming or agri-business use. A license can be obtained from the Civil Aviation Authority but requires a qualification and a written operating permission manual.

Risks: In all cases, you should undertake a site risk assessment before flying, noting all obstacles such as pylon lines, roads and trees. Always keep the drone within eyesight and ensure that the batteries are fully charged.

Insurance: It is highly unlikely that general estate and farm insurance would cover the use of drones (even those that don't need licenses) and separate insurance will almost certainly be needed. Minimum cover should be at least 5 million. From experience, this could add 3,000 a year to an annual public liability Insurance premium.

Contractors: An increasing number of specialist firms provide additional expertise (such as photography or crop assessment) and offer an alternative to buying a drone.