New CFBF policy reflects changes in use of drones


Issue Date: December 16, 2015
By Ching Lee
Colusa County Farm Bureau delegate Jim Peterson speaks during the business session at the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Reno.
Photo/Matt Salvo

The use of drones and other aerial technology dominated discussions by delegates to the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting, as they developed new policy to deal with potential impacts of aircraft on agriculture.

Delegates representing county Farm Bureaus throughout the state also tackled issues ranging from honeybees to taxation to crop insurance during the 97th CFBF Annual Meeting in Reno last week. The policies they set each year guide future work of Farm Bureau leadership and staff.

Concerns about how aircraft could disrupt livestock production and could be used for surveillance led CFBF delegates to adopt two separate policies—one specifically to address manned aircraft and the other one for unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS.

Although farmers see potential applications for aerial technology in farming, they say there may be unintended negative ramifications associated with its use.

Livestock ranchers say potential problems exist for all low-flying aircraft, including helicopters, drones and hot-air balloons. They cited incidents of aircraft disturbing livestock and causing them to stampede, resulting in injury and production losses.

The new CFBF policies make clear that aircraft—both manned and unmanned—should not fly so close to livestock, poultry or other animal operations that animals or production would be adversely affected.

Both policies support requiring all operators of manned or unmanned aircraft, including government agencies and third parties, to obtain written consent from landowners and farmers prior to the use of aircraft over their property.

Delegates adopted additional policy language for unmanned aircraft systems to support: their use for agricultural purposes; allowing landlords and tenants to fly such aircraft over their fields without it being considered commercial activity; the Federal Aviation Administration developing reasonable certification and safety training requirements for the operation of unmanned aircraft; and using safety features to notify manned aircraft that an unmanned aircraft is in the vicinity.

Furthermore, the policy opposes FAA regulations that require a pilot's license and third-class medical certification to operate an unmanned aircraft.

Although delegates adopted two policies in order to distinguish aircraft flown by on-board pilots and aircraft flown by remote pilots on the ground, Madera County rancher Clay Daulton, who is also a pilot, said there is not much difference between the two types of aircraft with regard to potential impacts to agriculture.

"Unauthorized crop data acquisition is unauthorized data, period; it doesn't make a whit of difference how it's collected," he said. "Unauthorized animal harassment is just that, pilot or no on-board pilot."

One distinction he makes is that pilotless aircraft lack the incentive for the operator's self-preservation, allowing a greater chance for people on the ground or in the air to get hurt when such an aircraft crashes. It's a safety issue he said the FAA needs to resolve in the near term, and one for which the American Farm Bureau Federation should provide input as it relates to the safety and productivity of people and animals.

Josh Rolph, CFBF Federal Policy manager, said the organization hadn't had specific policy on unmanned aircraft before Farm Bureau delegates acted last week.

"This will give CFBF staff more direction on how to best represent Farm Bureau on an increasingly important issue," Rolph said.

In other policy matters, CFBF delegates added to existing policy on bee protection to support development and implementation of best-management practices to protect the health and pollination activities of bees.

Also related to bees, concerns about the rise in bee colony thefts led the delegates to amend CFBF policy on rural crime, clarifying that the theft of agricultural property underscores the need for stricter laws, increased enforcement and prosecution to the full extent of the law.

An attempt by the California Legislature last year to amend the state Constitution to lower the vote threshold for local sales and use or transaction and use taxes to fund local transportation projects inspired new language in CFBF policy on government finance. The added statement says Farm Bureau opposes any legislation or election that would increase local sales and use or transaction and use taxes for specific purposes unless approved by a two-thirds vote of the electorate.

Concerned about potential funding cuts to crop insurance programs for rice farmers, delegates adopted policy in support of the original crop insurance funding levels in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Among other actions, Farm Bureau delegates made policy changes to support:

• Development and/or expansion of commercial markets for all agricultural biomass, not just agricultural waste biomass.

• A milk pricing system that responds quickly to fluctuations in production costs and other factors.

• Advertising of domestic wine and related products; the previous policy limited support of advertising to radio and television and was written before the advent of social media.

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.