Todd Manning

Todd Manning of Country Financial operates an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, system earlier this year. The company is expanding its use of the technology with more than a dozen certified operators who can use UAV's to look for damage as part of the insurance claims process.

Submitted photo

DECATUR — The use of drones is enhancing the ability to spot issues developing in farm fields.

Country Financial is among the insurance companies looking for the most ways to benefit from the capabilities of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV's. The company held a seminar Tuesday at the Macon County Farm Bureau office in Decatur to update area farmers on its latest uses for drone technology and possible changes to crop insurance coverage.

The ability to use drones is helping to identify issues in fields more quickly than traditional scouting methods from the ground and share the gathered information with customers, said Todd Manning, a Country crops claims coordinator.

“We're still going to have boots on the ground,” Manning said. “What we see will ease the peace of mind that everything is being looked at. It keeps getting better but it won't replace people in the field.”

Manning said drones have been used to see areas of damage in the middle of corn fields that can't readily be spotted from the road and guide those interested to that area for further inspection.

“We didn't see any of this,” Manning said while showing a photo of a field with evidence from the air of grain snap and wind damage. “It looked like a healthy corn field.”

It's not always easy to reach some areas on the ground, as hazards such as flooding could get in the way, he said. Besides agriculture, Manning said other potential uses of drones for insurance companies include inspections on roofs of buildings.

Drones in general are increasing in usage as regulations of who can operate the systems has changed, Manning said. New regulations allow for system operators for commercial purposes to pass a test and receive a certificate rather than being a licensed pilot.

As the use of technology used in identifying claims expands, farmers also have more information to consider when choosing amounts crop insurance coverage.

Farmers have been protected by the ability to choose higher levels of coverage, said Doug Yoder, Country crop agency manager. More insurance plans now can be based on an enterprise level rather than relying on county numbers, Yoder said.

That allows for farmers to benefit from more cost savings, Yoder said.

“We know we need the coverage,” Yoder said. “We don't lose a third of the crop very often in this area. Farmers shouldn't voluntarily lower coverage levels. We're going to need every dollar we can get.”

Farmers have until March 15 to buy crop insurance for the next growing season.

Yoder said crop insurance will once again be in question as discussion on the next Farm Bill begins. The Farm Bill enacted in 2014 is due to expire in 2018.

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Staff Writer

Business Writer for the Herald & Review

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