In a Senate subcommittee hearing on benefits and risks of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as unmanned aircraft systems, Farm Bureau member Jeff VanderWerff testified that farmers and ranchers are on the leading edge in exploring uses for the technology.
UAVs give farmers and ranchers ways to be more efficient, economical and environmentally friendly, Farm Bureau said
"I rely on data to produce the accurate information critical to my day-to-day business decisions," VanderWerff said. "These decisions affect my yield, environmental impact and ultimately the economic viability of my farm."
According to VanderWerff, UAS would provide a valuable tool for farmers and ranchers to manage their fields and respond to threats quickly. "Currently, I spend about 12 hours a week walking the nearly 3,000 acres of land we farm. This may be effective, but it is not efficient," he said.
UAS can also help farmers reduce their environmental impact, Farm Bureau said. "With the imagery from unmanned aircraft, I can spot-treat sections of my fields as opposed to watering and spraying the entire field," VanderWerff said.
Despite the benefits, VanderWerff said one of the concerns is the data collected as UAVs are flown across miles of farmland. Farmers and ranchers must be sure their data is secure and cannot be used unfairly against them by any third party, including the government, Farm Bureau said.
"The use of unmanned aircraft will be an important addition to a farmer's management toolbox, but it is critical that the data remain under the ownership and control of the farmer," VanderWerff said.
Also Tuesday, the FAA issued a memo noting that it has established an interim policy to speed up airspace authorizations for certain commercial unmanned aircraft operators who obtain Section 333 exemptions.
The new policy helps bridge the gap between the past process, which evaluated every UAS operation individually, and future operations after FAA publishes a final version of the proposed small UAS rule, FAA said.
Under the new policy, the FAA will grant a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption for aircraft that weigh fewer than 55 pounds, operate during daytime Visual Flight Rules conditions, operate within visual line of sight of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports.