Technology – With Limits

Agriculture is constantly seeking and benefiting from technology, whether it is GPS guided tractors, moisture sensors that allow us to control irrigation systems remotely through our phones and ipads, or utilizing artificial insemination to encourage uniformity and improve herd genetics.

Drones are proving to be a valuable tool for agriculture. You can remotely check livestock, spray a crop, and ensure a field is being watered evenly all at the touch of a joystick. Farmers spend hours walking their fields checking their crops or livestock. This is an effective method that farmers and ranchers have utilized for years, but in today’s world it is not a very efficient use of time, and drones can help in that manner.

Questions do remain though about when and where drones will be of economic value. Some estimate that there can be as much as 20 percent savings in crop inputs from the use of drones. American Farm Bureau wants to help quantify what type of return farmers can expect from the use of drones and so they have teamed with a drone services company called Measure and Precision Hawk another field services company. They are running tests with drones in North Carolina to help understand whether drones make sense for farmers in their bottom line.  Measure also plans on launching an online return on investment calculator for farmers to use to help them see whether the investment of a drone will be cost effective for their operation.

Industry experts estimate the market will create more than 100,000 jobs by 2025, bringing with it hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group representing UAV manufacturers and users, predicts agriculture will account for about 80 percent of the commercial market.

Sometimes though, advancing technologies come with unwanted side effects.  This is where we’re at with drones. One of the issues cropping up is the ownership of data obtained from the use of drones in commercial enterprises. Once again this comes down to property rights and that would be that the data would be owned and controlled by the farmer.

On another issue here’s a cautionary tale:

“In Australia, which is already ahead of the U.S. in the use of drones for agriculture, an animal activist group acquired drones to monitor cattle and sheep operations for indications of animal abuse. The group reportedly received donations to buy its first helicopter-type drone for $14,000, and its members then completed a training program. They also use drones to verify claims made by free-range egg producers. As long as the drones are operated under the country’s aviation standards, the surveillance techniques may not violate the country’s trespassing regulations.”

There are entities in the U.S. currently purchasing drones for the exact same uses and, New Mexico Farm & Livestock was prepared for this dilemma and we have a drone policy:

Drones/Unmanned Aircraft

• We oppose use of a drone or unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance of an individual or of property owned or leased by an individual, farm or agricultural operation without the consent of that individual, property owner, farm or agricultural operation.

• Further, we oppose use of a drone or unmanned aircraft to gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct or conduct in violation of a statute or regulation except to the extent authorized in a warrant.

• We encourage language that excludes individuals from prosecution or liability for engaging in self-help for removing an offending drone or unmanned aircraft for trespass. (2014 Valencia)

The New Mexico Legislature considered a drone bill in the last session that would have regulated where and how drones could be used. Most importantly, the bill would have expressly forbid individuals or state agencies from using drones for surveillance or to gather evidence without a warrant or other consent. Although the Senate supported the bill, it failed in the House.

We expect a drone bill will be reintroduced in the next session and we’ll need your help to make sure it benefits agriculture, rather than compromises your private property rights.

by Mike White, President, NMF&Lb