Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are quickly making the transition from being a cool, new toy into a valuable business tool for farmers.

Farmer interest in UAS, or drones, reached a fever pitch at farm shows and conventions during the past two years as researchers and sales representatives touted their potential benefits. But farmers are still learning how to turn what they see from the sky into useful decision-making tools.

"If we can’t make actionable decisions from this data, there’s really not a lot of value," Ryan Bergman, a program coordinator with Iowa State University’s (ISU) agricultural and biosystems engineering department, said last week. "We’re at the point where you can really start to see some productivity."

With all the talk about agricultural drones, it’s easy to forget the machines are still in their infancy as an agricultural tool. Even the most experienced users are using them for just the second or third crop season.

Farmers are just scratching the surface of the potential uses for imagery captured by UAS, said Brent Johnson, owner of Labre Crop Consulting ...