Unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs have widespread potential for farmers, and could streamline operations, the National Corn Growers Association told the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration in open letters last week.
NCGA sent the letters as proposed rules on the commercial use and privacy best practices of UAVs are considered.
In the U.S. Department of Transportation letter, NCGA said unmanned aircraft systems have promise in agricultural uses, and "will ultimately reduce costs, improve efficiency, and make farming operations more sustainable."
For example, when scouting fields, a UAV could provide real-time snapshots, taken from better vantage points that allow farmers to better spot and treat irregularities – all at a fraction of the cost and time it would take to do so on foot.
The letter said UAV technology would "increase chances of early detection of irregularities, [and] farmers are able to treat specific areas of fields rather than mass application of inputs."
This has many benefits for both farmers and consumers, NCGA said: Significantly lower operating costs; fewer inputs, such as pesticides and fertilizer; higher yields; and a reduced environmental impact
The Federal Aviation Administration already has proposed a battery of regulations for UAV use, including certification and operating locations.
FAA is expected to issue a final rule regarding UAS later this year. In writing the final rules governing UAS, NCGA encouraged the FAA to "embrace innovation and remain flexible" as the technology continues to advance.
In a separate letter to the NTIA, NCGA called for strong rules protecting farmers' privacy and ownership of any data collected using UAS technology.
"We consider farm data to be proprietary information that is sensitive to a farmer's business and way of life," NCGA said in the letter. "Any use of UAS, whether commercial, private, or governmental, over a farmer's land that results in data collection should come with explicit consent from the farmer."
The FAA already has issued commercial flight exemptions for UAV operating companies, including one last week to ADM for the purpose of surveying crop damage.