My Way of Thinking: Why limit the use of ‘drones’?

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Rich Keller, AgProfessional MagazineRich Keller I cannot believe all of the hubbub about drones flying over farmers’ property. What do farmers have to hide? Will those pictures from the sky prove they are liars about what crop is planted where for insurance purposes, they are illegally pumping irrigation water from a river, or they don’t really own any livestock as reported to the government in the agriculture census? In other words, do farmers want to protect themselves from being discovered as criminals?

Use the word drone and most people think of those military drones used to kill terrorists in foreign countries. Actually, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) shouldn’t be called drones.

Many UAVs hold potential for helping farmers a lot more than ruining a farmer’s privacy. You’ve seen my reports about various UAVs in past issues of AgProfessional and on our website. There is even another reference to UAVs in this issue of the magazine included in the robotics in farming article, page 48.

Pictures from the sky via airplanes and satellites are nothing new, and the high definition pictures that can be gathered are quite amazing. Private helicopters and small airplanes fly across private land constantly and take pictures, too.

But to date, the Federal Aviation Administration and Homeland Security Administration (which does use their own drones) have not cleared the way for unlimited field monitoring by ag retailers and crop consultants using UAVs programmed to fly using global positioning systems (GPS). These UAVs can be equipped with full-spectrum, ultraviolet, infrared and other high-tech cameras and sensors for visual data that can easily be the basis for precision agriculture to help farmers efficiently and profitably grow crops.

Some of this precision data has been gathered for several years using manned airplanes, but clouds interfere. And having a pilot and plane ready to fly to a specific field in a minute’s notice is impossible.

Additionally, the small UAVs can be flown at much lower altitudes and slower than a conventional airplane to capture pictures of sections of a field. A UAV helicopter with wireless communication can actually hover over a small plant to provide a live video feed to a computer screen to see insect damage and plant stress.

So, let’s allow paranoid legislators and farmers to take this technology away from us. At last count, 11 states had bills pending to limit the use of UAV’s, or drones as they are almost universally referred to by the uneducated.

I wrote this column a week after the Missouri House Committee on Agribusiness held a hearing on the “Preserving Freedom from the Unwarranted Surveillance Act.” The sponsoring legislator said it was the legislature’s “obligation to assure that technology is not being used irresponsibly.”

And there was the Missouri Farm Bureau testifying in support of passing the legislation to protect their member’s personal privacy and personal property rights.

During mid-2012, a big uproar in Iowa and Nebraska occurred because of unfounded reports that the Environmental Protection Agency was flying drones over private property in the states. At the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, I sat next to the EPA official who had to field the calls of the concerned public and inquiries from the media. He said it was a crazy couple of weeks.

The EPA has used conventional airplanes to check out environmental concerns, and that has probably been going on since the agency was founded.

States’ rights cannot be allowed to make a patchwork of the sky from one state to another where UAVs are allowed or not allowed to fly, which would give one state’s farmers an advantage or disadvantage in precision agriculture for the future. As for national restriction on the use of UAVs, we can only try to convince Congress to not be stupid in passing unreasonable UAV restrictions.

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Sam Kephart    
Spearfish, SD  |  March, 12, 2013 at 05:59 PM

Cleverly invented to counter growing terrorism, drone usage offers no controls nor checks and balances to prevent them from being used for politically nefarious purposes. Imagine what Richard Nixon would have done if he’d had such peremptory or discretionary presidential authority? Any of his antagonists, like Daniel Ellsberg, would have monitored by domestic drones... and then Ellsberg would have been picked up and held for providing “material support” to the enemy in a time of war. There are currently no discernible safeguards to prevent a paranoid and power hungry President (think Johnson, Nixon, or Obama), or his/her national security team, from using drone technology as a threat and/or punishment to political enemies, particularly given the exigencies of war or a domestic emergency like 9/11. For national security purposes, Americans are already subject to warrantless wiretaps of calls and emails, the warrantless GPS “tagging” of their vehicles, the domestic use of Predators or other spy-in-the-sky drones, and the Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of all our behavior through “data fusion centers.” Given this toxic mashup of losses of privacy, if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then domestic drones are a superhighway to an Orwellian panoptic gulag. America’s promise has always been the power of the many to rule, instead of the one. Ungoverned drone usage, particularly domestically, gives power to the one. Domestic drone usage is ill-conceived, elitist, and end-runs our inherent Constitutional protections. Here are two (2) different videos that anchor my points: http://vimeo.c

Sam Kephart    
Spearfish, SD  |  March, 12, 2013 at 06:00 PM

Here are two (2) different videos that anchor my points:

March, 12, 2013 at 07:34 PM

I am not sure if you intended to make it look like the EPA is NOT using drones to surveil American farmers, but here are links directly from the EPA that they have been doing so or plan on doing so.

March, 12, 2013 at 07:37 PM

Besides, you know what happens with government programs, especially related to Agriculture. They start off looking like something somewhat minimal and unobtrusive, and soon become quite an overbearing and taxing system that turn normal innocent citizens into criminals via regulation schemes. That is, GUILTY INTO ONE PROVES ONESELF INNOCENT. In the meantime, one sits in a jail cell unable to personally obtain the facts for defense, or loses one's assets prior to trying to win them back in a court of law versus the government--good luck Chuck.

March, 12, 2013 at 07:41 PM

Just because private enterprise is surveilling Americans does not mean that the government should also be able to. Think of it in 1990, if the EPA or a private technology company pulled up to a farmer's machine shed and started taking pictures. They told the farmer that they were going to use the pictures for harmless purposes such as posting them on the upcoming internet or to tell the farmer how he can do his job without releasing so many smells or CO2 amounts. Seriously? This would have NEVER been allowed. And yet just because the technology to do so is flying overhead, it should be allowed? What difference does it make if there are 2 feet on the ground with a camera, or a robot overhead with a camera? Are you really going to reply that there is a difference? ...Are you really going to reply at all?

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