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Increased drone sales, new registration rule interest farmers

dronesUnmanned aerial vehicles hold great promise for the agriculture industry.

They could allow operators of large farms and producers of high-value crops to better identify and treat crop problems. But the rapid proliferation of both amateur and commercial drones also poses a privacy risk.

“We’ve had policy for about the past five years supporting the use of drones for economic benefits related to agriculture,” said Trey Davis, assistant director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The issue we’re going to be looking at going forward is if there is a governmental agency operating a drone over a farm, forest land or privately-owned land, that the agency obtain the landowner’s permission or follow the appropriate steps laid out in the Virginia Code.”

Davis said several bills in past Virginia General Assemblies have addressed that issue. More legislation may be introduced this winter now that the Federal Aviation Administration announced Dec. 14 that all drones will need to be registered with that agency beginning Dec. 21.

The FAA decision comes as sales of hobby-size drones have been booming. The agency estimated 1.6 million small unmanned aircraft will be sold this year. The registration requirement will cover all aircraft weighing between half a pound and 55 pounds, including payloads such as a camera. Registration will cost $5 and must be renewed every three years, but the fee will be waived for the first 30 days, until Jan. 20, 2016. Owners will have to mark their aircraft with an identification number.

Davis said requiring drones to be registered settles only one of many questions regarding the new technology.

“Let’s say you get a drone for Christmas, or you go pick one up at the store. Folks need to be very mindful that Virginia is not one giant state park, and there’s a very good chance that wherever you’re flying it is going to be over private property,” he said.

Farmers and landowners don’t give up their privacy and property rights just because a drone can fly over their land without physically touching it, Davis explained. He said court systems are still setting precedent on whether a drone owner can retrieve a craft if it lands on someone else’s property—or whether he or she even owns it anymore.

“Like anything else when dealing with matters of property, it always is going to save you a lot of time and effort and perhaps hurt relationships if you ask permission first,” Davis said. “If you’re going to be flying a drone in the vicinity of someone else’s property, let them know.”

The property owner might welcome the chance to see that property from the air, he added.


augusta free press
augusta free press