Farmers are increasingly using drones to inspect crops, monitor field and soil health, and survey livestock. Not only do they save the legs, specialist drones also combine visual light and thermal imaging cameras to deliver a level of insight into field crop health that is not obvious to the naked eye. Thermal imaging can also detect dry areas, so it can be ensured that water is delivered where needed.

Some even create time lapse views that highlights development or disease problems.

However, fines running into thousands of pounds are a risk if rules for commercial use of these drones aren't being followed. Many farmers are not aware of the laws or regulations when flying their drones, warns insurer NFU Mutual, who has worked with the Civil Aviation Authority, rural police forces, and agricultural specialist providers to produce guidance on the subject.

“As the potential for drones to be used for more tasks in modern agriculture increases, we are getting many enquiries from farmers about insurance and their legal position,” said Charlie Yorke, NFU Mutual Farm Technology Specialist.

“Drone technology is developing fast and is already offering exciting possibilities - including precision application of crop treatments - and detailed surveying.

“It’s worrying that some farmers buying a drone don’t realise that there are laws which have to be observed when flying them. This includes specific insurance cover, and consideration when they are receiving money for flying their drone as a service to other farmers.

“In the case of a farmer surveying his own crops with a view to alter how he would manage the crops, either by spraying or cultivating, this would not be classed as a commercial operation - it is classed as a non-recreational flight.

"However, if the farmer charged his neighbour to survey his neighbour’s crops, then this would be classed as a commercial operation and the relevant permission and commercial insurance is required."