AGRIBUSINESS: First Commercial Ag Drones Granted Exemptions

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Currently, farmers can only fly unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, over their fields for fun.

Commercial uses are prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration, but that’s gradually changing.

On January 6, the FAA granted two exemptions to the commercial use ban, including the first for agricultural purposes. One exemption was given to a real estate videographer in Arizona, and the other to a crop scouting company in Washington State.

But Kristine Tidgren with Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation says both exemptions carry a few stipulations, “But they do have to have a licensed pilot. And they do have to have someone on the ground to watch it. And they do also have to get another certificate of authority to operate to make sure it’s being used safely. So again it’s not just a blanket grant of authority, ‘Great you have authority now, go fly your drone.’ It doesn’t work that way. And it’s probably indicative perhaps of the type of authority that will be granted once the actual regulations do come out.”
Requiring a pilot may seem a little restrictive for a farmer simply scouting his or her own fields.
But Tidgren says the stipulation isn’t exactly unreasonable, if somewhat inconsistent.
She says, “And if you start narrow, then you can always broaden your grant of authority. But if you start with a very broad grant of authority, it’s much harder to rein it in. And I think safety is definitely the pre-eminent concern of the FAA. The only thing that doesn’t seem quite logically consistent is that a farmer can use that same UAV without FAA approval as long as he or she is using it for a personal use.”


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