Farm Bureau member Jeff VanderWerff explained the value and risks of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in agriculture in his testimony before a Senate subcommittee this week. The Michigan farmer and agronomist discussed how farmers and ranchers are leading the way in exploring commercial use for this technology.

America's farmers and ranchers embrace technology that allows their farming businesses to be more efficient, economical and environmentally friendly. VanderWerff sees these benefits firsthand on his farm where he where uses precision technology. "I rely on data to produce the accurate information critical to my day-to-day business decisions. These decisions affect my yield, environmental impact and ultimately the economic viability of my farm," he said.

According to VanderWerff, UAS would provide a valuable tool for farmers and ranchers to manage their fields and respond to threats quickly before they turn catastrophic. "Currently, I spend about 12 hours a week walking the nearly 3,000 acres of land we farm. This may be effective, but it is not efficient," he said. UAS can also help farmers reduce their environmental impact. "With the imagery from unmanned aircraft, I can spot-treat sections of my fields as opposed to watering and spraying the entire field," VanderWerff said.

Precision technology does not come without potential risks, however. Farmers and ranchers must be sure their data is secure and cannot be used unfairly against them by any third party, including the government. "The use of unmanned aircraft will be an important addition to a farmer's management toolbox, but it is critical that the data remain under the ownership and control of the farmer," VanderWerff said.