TRENTON — A "big, phenomenal change" in farming is gaining momentum in the Garden State, on par with the transition from horse-drawn plows to tractors.

Those are the words of New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher in talking about the ever-evolving use of drone technology by the state's farmers.

"It's totally accurate," Fisher said. "It's precise. It's essentially precision agriculture."

With drones, farmers can obtain data for soil management and irrigation so that they can better understand the geography, topography, and moisture content of fields that are ready for planting. The drones also have the capability to assist with seed planting, and constantly scan fields for spraying needs.

And when it comes to spraying such things as pesticides, a drone can zero in on a specific area in a way that a traditional crop duster can't, saving money, chemicals, and ultimately, the environment.

"They spot bacteria, they spot infections, they're always looking at the plant health," Fisher said.

However, Fisher cautioned that drones may not be right for every farmer at this point in time, given their cost — one that was demonstrated Monday in Swedesboro cost $50,000 — and their high level of sophistication. As Fisher explained, the aircraft is not simply something you plug in and let fly away. It takes synergy between man, equipment, and data.

"It still takes the farmer, so it's not like you just, this thing takes off, does its job, and comes back," he said. "It helps to produce the same product that all our farmers have across the state. It's just that it gets them some efficiency that they wouldn't necessarily have."

As the technology continues to grow in its use, Fisher said the products it yields can be located at, where consumers can search for various products grown in the state, farms near them, and supermarkets carrying any crops from those farms.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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