Farmers will have to wait a little longer to make full-scale use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) on their farms.
A recent notice from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says the aircraft still can only be used for hobby purposes.
Farmers, ranchers and all commercial operators are prohibited from using UASs until the FAA institutes regulations for the safe integration of UASs into the national airspace, according to the FAA.
The FAA notice clarifies the differences between hobby and recreational purposes and non-hobby purposes. Specifically for agriculture, the FAA said a hobby activity would include viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment.
A non-hobby, and therefore prohibited, activity would be determining whether crops that are grown as part of commercial farming operation need to be watered.
"If a farmer just wants to use a unmanned aircraft system to view crops or a field that their family is going to consume, they can utilize that technology," said American Farm Bureau rural development specialist R.J. Karney. "But if it is for a commercial farming operation, the farmer’s going to take that product and sell it to a consumer, then they can no longer utilize that technology according to the FAA."
The FAA reminded model aircraft operators that it has the authority to take enforcement action against anyone that endangers the safety of the national airspace system.
Karney says there are many practical on-farm uses for drones that would benefit farmers and ranchers.
"One of the primary uses will be for aerial photography," he said. "What a farmer can do is place an infrared camera on a unmanned aircraft system. The infrared technology will be able to check the crops for diseases that the farmer then can go and tackle at a quicker pace than having to walk the field."
The FAA is pursuing integration of commercial drone flights by September 2015, but Karney says the Office of Inspector General has released an audit indicating it’s unlikely the FAA will meet the deadline due to a lack of staff and funding.
He says the technology currently outpaces U.S. rules and regulations.
"Japan, for example, has been utilizing unmanned aircraft system for agriculture since the late 1980s, and we don’t want our farmers and ranchers to fall even further behind with the use of this technology," Karney said.
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