Politics & technology: U.S. polices restricting unmanned aerial systems in agriculture.
Many industry observers foresee that agriculture worldwide is posed to substantially benefit from the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), commonly known as drones. Industry special interests predict that 80% of domestic sales of UASs in the U.S. will be for agriculture. However, some fear that the public anxiety of the UAS operating in U.S. airspace could stall their introduction, a move that would potentially place some of American farmers' production practices at an economic disadvantage. Currently, this public policy controversy is influencing UAS integration into U.S. agriculture, with the potential of spilling over internationally. This project examines the nature of the current debate surrounding the UAS within the U.S., analyzes the impact on agriculture from the legislation considered, discusses policy options to ameliorate the controversy, and describes the factors that will likely determine UAS operations within the U.S. The information was obtained from government documents, academic research, industry studies, nonprofit organizations, and media reports. An analysis was done using these data on how UAS legislation may affect agriculture. Popularized images of the silent-kills overseas using militarized UASs, safety concerns, and a fear of privacy invasions were found to generate intense opposition to their domestic integration. Spurred by the FAA's congressional mandate to fully integrate UASs into the nation's airspace, a significant number of bills, particularly in state legislatures, have been introduced in an attempt to regulate UAS use. Although geared toward privacy protection and law enforcement, some laws may adversely affect agriculture because they create legal uncertainty and/or they sweepingly ban or highly curtail local UAS operations. Possible solutions have been proposed: (1) reducing the legal uncertainty regarding UASs, (2) adopting an industry Code of Conduct and Safe Practices, and (3) producing a consensus on UAS regulations among diverse groups through an open discussion of how to balance UAS operations with safeguards on privacy and property rights. The perceived economic potential of the UAS, particularly in agriculture, combined with the lobbying power of the UAS industry, strongly suggest that policy will eventually be developed that will allow the use of this technology for agriculture in U.S. airspace.