Data collected could lead to more precise farming.

A company in Neodesha is building drones that its owner believes could someday help farmers watch over their fields without spending hours walking or driving through their property.

The company, called AgEagle, has shipped 125 unmanned aircraft systems to customers across the world since Jan. 1, said Bret Chilcott, a former aircraft employee who grew up on a farm near Udall.

Chilcott said his firm is a pioneer in an industry that he believes will grow quickly, despite current federal regulations that prohibit commercial use of drones. The unmanned aircraft could someday allow farmers to map out fields using imagery that send data and photos back to a laptop for study by the farmer, The Hutchinson News reported.

For example, the machines could help farmers quickly see areas that need to be treated or fertilized, without having to treat entire fields, said Tom Nichol, in charge of business development.

“It saves the farmer, it saves impact on the environment — all because a little 6.5-pound aircraft was able to take some useful photos,” Nichol said. “Some people think of them as evil and bad. Here is one that can have a huge impact — billions of dollars in new jobs and, most importantly, it could grow agriculture.”

The startup company housed in a building off Neodesha’s Main Street, is among a group of “early adopters” trying to lead the unmanned systems into the 21st century.

“Bear in mind that this single-person unmanned aircraft image gathering and processing technology is less than 2 years old,” Nichol said. “So while there is a huge amount of interest, there are only a couple of dozen fliers in Kansas. Everyone involved is in precision ag and are more progressive in their approach to farming than most — intellectuals with dirt under their fingernails.”

The Association of Unmanned Aerial Systems International said in a recent report that the potential economic impact of the technology in Kansas is $2.9 billion.