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21 September 2014 - It’s a Bird; No, It’s a Plane; No, It’s a Farmer’s Drone!

So, is it technology, is it a toy or is it a spy in the sky? I am talking this week about UAV’s - Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or as we commonly refer to them - ‘drones’. There is no question they could be a very useful tool for agriculture; useful to crop producers who can fly them over the field to detect drought stress or disease stress in their crops; useful to ranchers who can fly them over ranch country to find cows and check their health. Yet, there are a lot of people who are concerned about this technology because they see it as a “spy in the sky”.

The reason I bring this up this week, the police department in Seattle, Washington recently gave two drones they had purchased, to the police department in Los Angeles. They gave them away because of community opposition to their use, and now the same thing is happening in Los Angeles. Civil Libertarians in the city say law enforcement use of airborne robots raises questions about privacy rights, the limits of government powers to ‘snoop’ on its citizens and the militarization of police agencies.

So the message here is, there are a few rules in place governing their use such as altitude limits and use around airports, but there are many more to be written by the FAA and the FCC. These new rules could be determined by the use, or mis-use of drones while the regulations are being formulated.

There is no question in my mind that this technology can be a vital tool for ranchers and farmers for the reasons I mentioned earlier. But remember, it is a tool, not a toy. It is not to be used to fly over your neighbor’s back yard to look for nude sunbathers or spy on them for any reason. And as I mentioned a few weeks ago, PETA is now selling drones to members so they can spy on hunters in the woods and frighten game away from their position. That is not a legitimate use. But people who do not want UAV’s in the sky at all will use these events as evidence when they make comments to the FCC and FAA.

Remember, people are very concerned about losing their privacy even more in this technological age. And I’m even hearing from farmers and ranchers who are concerned about government, Big Brother, using drones to spy on their property. They are concerned about the government flying drones over farm land to get information that perhaps hasn’t been shared by the farm owner or operator.

The focus on UAV technology at this year’s outdoor farm shows and the many magazine feature stories confirm what an article in the John Deere Furrow magazine recently stated…“These souped-up hobby craft have shot to the top of the wish-list for many farmers.”

My advice right now for those who already have the drones is to use them properly and prepare for more rules and regulations to come your way. Failure to do so could result in the loss of this technology for agriculture.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.