Unmanned aircraft systems might be the hottest topic in production agriculture right now, and the annual Big Iron Farm Show will offer both UAS demonstrations and classes.

“There’s considerable interest in the subject,” said John Nowatzki, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural machine systems specialist. He’s helping to plan the Big Iron UAS events.

Big Iron will be Tuesday through Thursday at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo. The preliminary agenda includes:

• Field demos from 1 to 3 p.m. each day in the demonstration area south of the grandstands. At least four companies with UAS expertise will participate. The demonstrations will be educational, not commercial opportunities for the companies, Nowatzki said. There also will be a presentation on what’s being learned from the UAS program at the Carrington Research Extension Center.

• A UAS “interpretation class” will be held at 3 p.m. each day in the South Schollander conference room. The class will examine how ag producers can incorporate UAS-supplied data into their operations.

Interpreting UAS data is crucial, as is managing it, Nowatzki said.

Farmers can focus too much on the type of air frame used by drones, and pay too little attention to the type of camera package the aircraft carries, says Paul Gunderson, director of the Dakota Precision Ag Center at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake.

The Muncie, Ind.-based Academy of Model Aeronautics is in charge of the Big Iron UAS demonstrations and has Federal Aviation Administration permission to coordinate them.

The AMA has a number of contest directors, who oversee model aircraft shows and make sure they run safely. One of the contest directors will run the Big Iron UAS demonstration.

Rich Hanson, the AMA’s director of public relations and government affairs, said this will be the third such public UAS demonstration he has coordinated. The other two were in Iowa and St. Louis.

Traditionally, the AMA has supported and promoted model aircraft. But drones are a natural adjunct to that, Hanson said.

The AMA’s involvement with precision agriculture began after a top FAA official said farmers could operate drones over their own commercial farms using hobby rules, Hanson said.

Nowatzki said he learned of the AMA’s involvement with the UAS at a demonstration in Iowa.

“As soon as I heard about it, I knew the folks at Big Iron would be interested,” he said.

The FAA has backed away, at least for now, from the position that farmers can operate drones over their own farms using hobby rules. The AMA doesn’t plan to coordinate any other public UAS demonstrations after Big Iron, Hanson said.

Congress has ordered the FAA to come up with guidelines on how to incorporate drones safely into the nation’s air space. Some of those guidelines could be released later this year, according to published reports.

Gunderson said it’s important that the federal government doesn’t take too long in issuing the guidelines. Long delays could cause farmers to grow frustrated, diminishing their interest in UAS.

Drones hold great potential for farmers and ranchers, and producers generally recognize that, Gunderson says.

“Come to Big Iron. It’s a great outlet for producers who want to learn more about these technologies,” he says.