House Ag Committee Examines Big Data in Agriculture- Imagery and Technology

A news release from the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday indicated that, “Today, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), Acting Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, held a hearing to educate members about innovations in agricultural imagery and technology. This is the second hearing in a series examining Big Data and its role in agriculture. The subcommittee heard from a variety of stakeholders about using satellites, manned airplanes, and Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones) as a way to collect imagery that farmers can leverage to make better business and conservation decisions for their farms. As technology continues to evolve, the witnesses stressed the importance of maintaining the privacy of individual farmers and ranchers and ensuring that their data is protected.”

At the hearing Rep. Lucas noted that, “While we are only scratching the surface on the innovation that satellites and Unmanned Aerial Systems will bring to agriculture, manned airplanes also continue to play a vital role. Aerial imagery from manned airplanes is the foundation of the administration of Farm Service Agency programs, such as ARC and PLC. We will hear more today about how FSA’s National Agricultural Imagery Program, or NAIP, is useful to farmers and to a broad spectrum of other users, which in the past have included companies such as Google.

This hearing is also timely since the FAA finalized the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, known as Part 107, which governs commercial use of drones, just this week. Commercial drone use will now be possible without the need to acquire a special exemption, which under the old regulations could take up to six months to be approved. We will be engaging with industry to gather their views on the impacts of this new rule on the use of drones in agriculture.”

Lanny Faleide, the President of Satshot, Inc. pointed out on Thursday that, “Recent estimates show the size of the precision agriculture market in the U.S. is between $1.5 and $2.0 billion. It is estimated over the next 5 years to grow at greater than 13% per annum to reach $3.0 to $3.5 billion. Outside the U.S., including developing countries where the need to improve productivity is even greater, the growth rate is expected to be over 25% per year. Satellite imagery offers the compelling benefit of being the fastest growing area of the precision agriculture market, while also having the highest ceiling.”

Also at the hearing, Robert Blair, a farmer and VP of Agriculture, Measure, stated that, “I am hopeful that my testimony has planted one of many seeds on the road to the next Farm Bill. Congress and USDA will need to work with traditional agriculture organizations while expanding to those in the UAV industry to start laying the foundation of how this technology can be used and promoted.

“However, without better connectivity and a stronger Internet infrastructure, rural America and all Americans will not benefit. Those utilizing precision agriculture and UAV data today are struggling greatly to deliver, in relative terms, this small amount of data today. America will need to invest into rural connectivity the same way America invested in a successful electrical infrastructure starting at the beginning of last century.

“We are in the information age where timing of data is becoming more critical every day. We have larger tractors, combines, and implements that are equipped with the technology that can utilize the data collected from a UAV. I have been implementing these technologies on my farm for over a decade and I am very optimistic about the future of agriculture, because in America the sky truly is the limit. With today’s low commodity prices and tighter margins, UAVs can help reduce costs while keeping farmers where they belong…on the farm.”

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