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UAVs Must Be More Than 'Gee-Whiz' Ag Technology

UAVs Must Be More Than 'Gee-Whiz' Ag Technology
Farmers ask lots of questions about unmanned aerial vehicles.

Jim Facemire, an Indiana farmer attended the first-ever Precision Aerial Ag Show at the Farm Progress site near Decatur, Ill. Facemire, Edinburgh, came away satisfied that the day was worth the cost of admission and his time.

Like many farmers, he has questions about UAV technology.

The first question is whether or not it's legal to use UAVs to scout fields. Talk at the show indicated it's a fuzzy area. The assumption is that if a farmer flies his own UAV on his own farm to look at crops and stays below 400 feet, it's OK. Some make the argument that the FAA has rules for hobby flying but not agricultural.

From outer space? No, it's just an unmanned aerial vehicle, meaning no harm. It's designed for use in agriculture. Both companies and farmers are awaiting rules as to how it can be used.

What's definitely not allowed is charging someone else for pictures an information gathered by a UAV.

The FAA recently took comments on what type of rules should be instituted. Many comments received were from model airplane users.

FAA is expected to propose a rule based on comments and their interpretation of the statutes. A comment period would likely follow. Experts say it could be many months before the FAA issues a final rule that clarifies what's allowed and what's not in terms of flying UAVs.

Court cases about the use of air space and who owns the air space above their property date back to 1946. A landmark Supreme Court decision sided with a farmer who was losing chickens because a military plane was flying 80 feet over his chicken house. The farmer won the case.

Related: Here's What Happened at the Precision Aerial Ag Show

However, actions after that period make it unclear how the FAA actually interprets the rule. Some make it seem like the FAA once again believes that a property owner does not have control of the air space above the ground.

This issue will need to be clarified in the rule the FAA proposes for use of these vehicles. Until there is a solid rule, it's unclear how this technology can be used in the future legally.

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