Farmers see benefit of new drone technology

newspaperFarmers in Virginia and across the nation are closely monitoring new legislation dealing with the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation supported state legislation that opposes unauthorized surveillance of farms by drones but still allows the use of drones for agricultural research.

SB 1301 and HB 2125, both of which passed in this year’s Virginia General Assembly and are awaiting approval by the governor, state that no governmental agency or organization can use drones except during the execution of a search warrant or when an inspection warrant has been issued. But the bills don’t prohibit the use of drones for research and development conducted by institutions of higher education or other research organizations, in addition to other exceptions.

“Our members remain concerned about unauthorized aerial surveillance by agencies over our farms and forests,” said Trey Davis, VFBF assistant director of governmental relations. “This legislation ensures that those agencies wishing to investigate farmers must follow the proper legal channels.”

On the national level, the American Farm Bureau Federation said the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent proposal on the commercial use of drones is a good start to a long-overdue discussion on use of the technology. Farmers and ranchers are optimistic that the final rules will allow them to use drones as part of the precision agriculture systems that have helped them produce more while protecting natural resources.

“Unmanned aircraft systems could be an incredible tool for farmers and ranchers, who can use them to scout their fields and ensure they’re using inputs like fertilizer and water only on the areas that need treatment,” explained R.J. Karney, AFBF technology specialist. “Farmers will adopt this technology as yet another way to live up to their promise of continuous improvement in food production.”

The draft rules would require unmanned aircraft operators to obtain an unmanned aircraft system operator certificate, stay away from bystanders and fly only during the day. They limit flying speed to 100 mph and altitude to 500 feet. In addition, the aircraft can weigh no more than 55 pounds, and it must remain within the operator’s line of sight.

“Agriculture is well-suited for the use of drones,” Davis said. “There’s still work to be done, but we’re optimistic that a line can be drawn between public and private use of drones so they can be beneficial to farmers while still protecting private property rights.”

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