Agricultural Drone Progress at Risk from Regulators: The Kiplinger Letter

U.S. agricultural drone progress is losing ground to countries with fewer regulatory restraints — notably China.

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As bigger and better agriculture-spraying drones are developed and sold, the U.S. risks falling behind other countries with fewer regulatory restraints, most notably China. 

Drones over 55 pounds operate under rules that are separate from smaller drones, including needing individual exemptions. In 2022, the federal government granted 366 exemptions, the vast majority for agriculture-spraying applications. That was a 450% increase from 2021, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which forecasts years of robust growth of drones over crops, orchards, etc.

Chinese drone maker DJI is reportedly readying a big update to its Agras T40, which already can spread 1.5 tons of fertilizer per hour. The T60 is poised to have a bigger payload capacity for fertilizer or pesticide and better batteries. Texas-based Hylio has a drone that can carry up to 18 gallons and covers 50 acres per hour. Makers say benefits include better and more effective fertilizer coverage, plus less risk and cheaper operation than using traditional, human-piloted aircraft.

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This forecast first appeared in The Kiplinger Letter, which has been running since 1923 and is a collection of concise weekly forecasts on business and economic trends, as well as what to expect from Washington, to help you understand what’s coming up to make the most of your investments and your money. Subscribe to The Kiplinger Letter.

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John Miley
Senior Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter

John Miley is a Senior Associate Editor at The Kiplinger Letter. He mainly covers technology, telecom and education, but will jump on other important business topics as needed. In his role, he provides timely forecasts about emerging technologies, business trends and government regulations. He also edits stories for the weekly publication and has written and edited e-mail newsletters.

He joined Kiplinger in August 2010 as a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, where he wrote stories, fact-checked articles and researched investing data. After two years at the magazine, he moved to the Letter, where he has been for the last decade. He holds a BA from Bates College and a master’s degree in magazine journalism from Northwestern University, where he specialized in business reporting. An avid runner and a former decathlete, he has written about fitness and competed in triathlons.