The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International released its report called “The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States” in March this year. The report claims that the integration of UAS in the United States will have an economic impact of $13.6 billion in the next three years, which will increase to $82 billion by 2025. The report also suggests that agriculture is going to be the biggest beneficiary of these unmanned systems.

While UAVs have been used internationally for spraying and surveying in agriculture for years, it seems the AUVSI’s report has played a major role in sparking the buzz this year surrounding domestic UAV use in agriculture. Word of the AUVSI report’s predictions spread, and agriculture started to make sense to many people as the next big step for UAS use. And anyone who’s ever been interested in the subject of “drones” has seemed to jump into the flurry of conversation about unmanned systems’ potential in agriculture.

But Rory Paul, Volt Aerial Robotics CEO and UAS consultant, says that before the AUVSI released its report this year, there were a handful of people in the United States saying the exact same thing (himself included). So the question became: who initiated the AUVSI report? The defense sector initiated it, says Paul.

“What has happened is because of the whole privacy hoopla about UAVs and drones, they [the defense sector] saw that they’re not going to be able to sell their systems into the first responder market – police, fire departments, etc. – because in big cities, people don’t want UAVs or drones flying around invading their privacy,” Paul said. “So where is the natural fit for UAVs? Agriculture. Why? Because it’s low risk. Farmers want the systems; they want the data. And corn and soybeans don’t complain if you take their picture.”

Regardless of where the conversation started, it’s rolling fast now and farmers are starting to see how these systems can help them farm more efficiently. Paul thinks that within the next five years, if there is progressive policy from the FAA that allows use of small UAVs, there could be multibillion-dollar dividends to American agriculture in terms of yield benefits and reduction of inputs to obtain aerial imagery.

“The fact of the matter is that this is going to happen. Individual farmers are going to acquire these systems and they’re going to start using them,” Paul says.