A 17-member study group in Louisiana, headed by state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, and including representatives from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter), has spoken out about the need for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in agriculture.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the process of changing rules and regulations regarding the use of UAS, and these changes are of concern to the agricultural interests in Louisiana, the AgCenter explains. The agriculture community has embraced the new technology and found many valuable uses for it, said Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor for plant and soil sciences.
Leonard said the group has put forth several suggestions for the FAA. “Current rules are somewhat outdated and address issues with hobbyist aircraft and, on the other end of the spectrum, commercial piloted aircraft. But UAS use in agriculture really does not fit within either of those areas,” he explained.
The Louisiana study group is recommending that states be given the ability to develop additional regulatory policies beyond the general FAA operation and safety guidelines, the LSU AgCenter says, which adds that current FAA rules have slowed research progress on UAS use in agriculture.
A UAS developed for agriculture can monitor crop fields much faster than a farmer can on foot or in a tractor or truck. Under current rules, however, if a farmer uses a UAS for this purpose, he would be in violation of recent interpretations of the law because he does not have the right to use a UAS commercially above his fields, even if the fields are all his private property, the AgCenter explains.
“All states are facing the same issues as Louisiana. We want farmers to be able to use UAS to help make their crop production more efficient,” Leonard added. “We believe that UAS guidelines for agriculture can be developed that protect privacy and ensure safety but are different from those current rules for hobbyists and commercial aircraft.”
“The LSU AgCenter is in the process of trying to get [certificates of authorization] for the fields at our research stations,” he said. “But there is a certain element of flexibility needed for research, and the present interpretation of the rules doesn’t allow for that.”
The AgCenter explains that its efforts to teach farmers how to effectively use drones have also been curtailed by the FAA rules. “It’s now very difficult to set up a demonstration on how to use drones,” Leonard explained. “And our farmers are asking for more information.”
In addition to Sen. Thompson, two other state legislators are part of the study group and are helping resolve the issues with the FAA, said Hampton Grunewald, AgCenter governmental relations coordinator. They are Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, and Rep. Andy Anders, D-Vidalia.
Other organizations represented include Southern University, the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Agriculture Aviation Association, the Louisiana Forestry Association, and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Association.
“Precision agriculture saves costs for the farmer and can reduce fertilizer and pesticide use in the environment,” said Leonard. “We’re just beginning to discover the many uses of UAS. Everyone recognizes the tremendous potential.”
A copy of the Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 124 from Sen. Thompson (the forming of the study group) can be found here.