Policy & Politics

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Uses and Policy Considerations of Unmanned Aerial Systems/Drones in Agriculture

Published Jul. 11, 2013

INTRODUCTION

A series of recent media stories and discussions have focused on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS’s) or “drone” technology in agriculture.  These systems are best known for their use as a military technology, but some domestic uses of these aircraft are already underway and the Federal Aviation Administration is considering licenses for commercial use in the next few years.  What types of commercial domestic use is being imagined?  Well, agriculture for one and researchers at the University of California, Davis are already currently testing the use of remote controlled helicopters for applying pesticides in vineyards and UAS technology is being used already in agriculture in other countries.

Additional uses of UAS’s in agriculture that have been discussed include:  Data collection, crop and livestock monitoring, plant health scouting, water management, aerial application of inputs, yield estimation, crop insurance claims, mapping, aerial imagery, tile/fence line scouting, rural crime deterrence, seeding, wildlife control/monitoring, herd tracking, pollination management, workforce monitoring, safety uses, weather reporting and more.

While the scope of potential uses are somewhat unlimited at the moment, there are a number of hurdles that must be sorted out before many of these ideas can be tested.  The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation has participated in several discussions with public and private entities that have an interest in developing such uses of these UAS’s.  In many cases, the technology to accomplish many of the uses described above already exists, but many public policy, research, and economic questions need to be considered before such vehicles take flight in the U.S.

ISSUE

For the agriculture industry there are many potential benefits, but there are also many potential concerns and challenges, such as:

  • Could or should such systems be used by local, state or federal government for regulatory compliance and monitoring?
  • Should private agri-businesses be able to use these systems to monitor farmer activities?
  • What if environmental or animal activists groups used these systems for surveillance of your farm?
  • On the benefit side of the ledger, what if a farmer could rapidly increase crop insurance claims, scout plant health and spot apply pesticides much quicker, or more accurately determine yields, boosting their bottom line?

There are a host of legal and regulatory issues surrounding the use of UAS’s in agriculture including; nuisance, trespassing, privacy, property rights, liability and safety questions, to mention a few, that must be discussed and considered.

OHIO FARM BUREAU FEDERATION STATE POLICY

OFBF does not have current policy relating to the use of UAS’s in agriculture.  Consider reviewing the following sections of state policy when discussing this issue:

Agricultural Production, Property Rights and Responsibilities, Local and State Government.

AMERICAN FARM BUREAU FEDERATION FEDERAL POLICY

  • Policy #110 Regulatory Review and Reform (Page 7, lines 84 – 85)

We believe:

(12)   No regulatory action shall be taken against landowners based upon satellite or aerial imagery.

 

  • Policy #180 U.S. – Mexico Border Security (Page 45, lines 11 – 15)

    We need to secure our United States borders and reduce terrorism through the following methods:

(4)     An emphasis on deploying technology and personnel based on the unique needs of enforcement agencies on a sector by sector basis, including electronic surveillance technology, fixed wing and helicopter and implementation of unmanned aerial systems for night and day surveillance.

 

  • Policy #536 Private Property Rights (Page 195, line 87)

We oppose:

(5)     Regulatory enforcement based solely on aerial surveillance.

In addition, consider reviewing the following sections of AFBF policy when discussing this issue:  Government, Miscellaneous; Security; Crop Insurance/Risk Marketing, Farm Policy, Food Protection, Quality and Safety; Property Rights; and others.

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DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Should agricultural uses of UAS technology be developed and used?  What limitations should be placed on the use of such systems?
  • What specific criteria should be developed to govern the use of these systems in agriculture?
  • Should government, businesses or others be allowed to use UAS technology in ways that interface or engage with the agriculture industry in general and farmers specifically?  What if any limitations should be placed on these uses?
  • What additional practical agricultural uses of this technology do you envision?

Please provide any thoughts, comments or questions to Adam Sharp, OFBF, at asharp@ofbf.org or 614-246-8250 or Larry Antosch at lantosch@ofbf.org or 614-246-8264.



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