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FAA proposes new rules for farm drones

AMES, Iowa – Drone regulations from aviation authorities last week were good news for agriculture, but they’re far from final.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, sometimes called UAVs or drones, have potential to redefine precision agriculture. They can see in a different light spectrum, and can scout an entire field at once to pick out problem areas. But they’re not exactly legal for those purposes, at least not yet.

Last week the latest development in the drone debate came in the form of proposed rules from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Since their inception, drones have only been approved for commercial uses by FAA through the use of exemptions from current law. For farmers, the exemptions were unrealistic; for example, drone operators needed to have a pilot’s license to fly commercial aircraft.

Staff Attorney Kristine Tidgren with Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation says the proposed rules distill that requirement into a new operator’s license for drones less than 55 pounds in weight.

”All that would require is to pass a knowledge test,” Tidgren says, “and to be 17 years old or older, and to also pass a security screen through the TSA.”

The new rules have only been proposed, meaning the legality of operating drones over farm fields hasn’t changed at all. The next steps won’t come until after the 60-day public comment period.

”At some point thereafter, the FAA will either modify the proposed regulations or somewhere down the road, hopefully actually consider them final and then they actually will be law,” explains Tidgren. “So right now, they don’t change anything; you can’t fly a commercial drone now and say ‘Well, the FAA came out with these new regulations.’ They’re not yet the law.”

To hear more about how FAA’s rules will affect drones over farm fields, click the audio player above this story.