Governor Rick Snyder recently announced the appointment of Northwest Michigan Farm Bureau member Brian Matchett to the state’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Task Force. Matchett, of Traverse City, serves as a program coordinator at Northwestern Michigan College for MSU’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources Institute of Agricultural Technology.
A natural fit for the position, Matchett has spent the past three years developing the UAS in Agriculture Training Program for MSU students interested in pursuing careers utilizing UAS technology in the agriculture sector. He believes the state’s agriculture industry and utility companies have the best opportunity for broad scale application of the technology.
“I’m approaching my representation on the task force from the mindset of how we can best poise agriculture to ensure we’re always at the forefront of the conversation and that we not limit the applications of this technology for farmers,” Matchett said. “Drones can have significant impacts for farmers, their management decisions, and improving efficiencies in their operation.”
One opportunity ripe for discussion is pesticide application. Matchett explained that current regulations within the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development’s pesticide applicator certification program don’t address drone applications.
“Hopefully through the task force’s recommendations we can provide the department with some direction to move forward,” he said. “We don’t want to see innovative applications for drones in agriculture to be limited. There can be great cost savings and efficiencies gained by reducing the amount of pesticides applied as a result of using drones as a precision agriculture tool.”
Another facet of the conversation is private property rights and privacy, which receive little attention within federal regulations. While some individuals less familiar with the technology tend to lump the topics together, Matchett sees private property and privacy as separate issues that require different approaches.
“The Federal Aviation Administration allows that as long as an operator is deploying UAS on property which they have permission to be on, once the aircraft is up they can fly it anywhere in the airspace as long as it’s in visual line of sight, below an altitude of 400 feet and not over other people. Per the current FAA regulations, someone could fly a drone over a farmer’s field as long as they are not trespassing,” he said. “Privacy is something that needs to be addressed with regards to what happens to the data that’s collected while the drone is flying over that farmer’s field.”
The diverse 27-member task force intends to present recommendations on UAS operation, use, and regulations in mid-November.
Note: Michigan Farm Bureau members adopted a new policy in 2016 seeking to work with the Legislature to address state level issues. Additionally, the organization’s drone web page offers resources to farmers interested in the technology.