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Karl Guenther Column: The drone is coming to the farm


According to a recent publication, there is afoot in the Michigan Legislature, a proposal to regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.  There may indeed be some valid privacy concerns here.  Those UAV are quiet, incredibly maneuverable, and can carry wonderfully sophisticated photographic equipment.  I can imagine one hovering outside my living room, recording me, reading at the fireplace - - no, actually I can’t!  Why would any individual, or agency, want to do that?  But, the American Civil Liberties Union is among those with that kind of concern.  I worry now that we’ll be undertaking a “throwing the baby out with the bath water” scenario, as the state legislature clamps down so hard on the employment of UAV, that only dire emergencies, such as the Boston Marathon event, could warrant such surveillance techniques.

This is of more concern to me now, than it was a week earlier, before I read my e-mail message from Mark Ludwig, Allegan Conservation District.  He is directing our attention to the possibilities associated with UAV-Agriculture.  Those possibilities are outlined in a Ludwig referenced publication NO-TILL FARMER.  The article is authored by John Dobberstein, the Managing Editor. 

To get the full effect of the positive elements of this modern application of Wright Brothers inventiveness, you really ought to acquire the publication, from the newsstand or the Internet. Here are some samples from that article: . . . Cover hundreds of acres in an hour; provide a birds eye view of fields down to canopy level.

I was surprised at the contention that the cost of the Drone (hardly anybody calls them UAV) is already coming down.  For example, there’s one that can be flown with a laptop computer - cover 100 to 150 acres at a time - and costs about twelve thousand dollars; BUT, eleven of that twelve thousand dollars is for the software used to process the images.

As is commonly the case, our regulatory system is dragging its feet.  The FAA in 2015 is expected to reveal a plan for integrating UAV into airspace rules, but who knows how long it will take to implement those guidelines.  UAV are already in the air over Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America.

Meanwhile, back here in Michigan, the legislature is debating House Bill 4455, which would require state and local agencies to acquire a search warrant before using a drone in any non-emergency situation. Another House Bill, #4456, designates unauthorized use of a drone as a “public safety felony”, punishable by up to ten years in prison.

The drone is coming to the farm, but it’ll take longer than did the no-till planter.

 Karl Guenther is a retired Kalamazoo farm broadcaster and can be reached at khguenther@att.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.