Drones in Agriculture
by Alex H Stone
The drone industry is projected to surpass 12 billion dollars by 2020. A large chunk of that will be the agricultural drone industry. So what all can these drones do now?
The most common application for an agricultural drone is analytics. These drones can use various cameras and sensors to monitor crops quickly and paint a more complete picture of the kinds of maintenance that farmers need to do on them. This information allows for farmers to assess the needs of specific segments of their fields and provide additional aid where it is needed.
More recently, though, drones have begun to replace certain pieces of equipment. As technology improves, we’re seeing drones capable of spraying crops and even drones capable of seeding. These drones can complete these tasks extremely efficiently—much faster than traditional equipment and involves much less labor. Companies like John Deer are already beginning to invest in these technologies.
Government interference, however, has slowed this transition down a fair amount. Restrictions on how high an unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV can fly, restrictions on weight, and restrictions on visibility have all played a roll in slowing down these developments. For example, black light technology could allow for drones to monitor the presence of pathogens on crops—but this would require the drones to be flown at night which is currently against FAA regulations.
Still, the promise of greater efficiency in farming will inevitably push these technologies forward. Various communities—Yuma, AZ, for example—are already pushing for programs that allow for leniency regarding these regulations. If these programs prove successful, we may begin to see a ramped up implementation of drones in agriculture.
Agricultural Legislation 2018
By Alex H Stone
Farmers are looking to lawmakers to provide them with security in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill—the current Farm Bill is set to expire in September of 2018. Given the general uncertainty of the agricultural industry, safety programs, such as MPP and PLC, are paramount to making sure farmers can grow their businesses— and survive when the unexpected happens.
The 2018 Farm Bill will be the first farm bill since 2002 to be written for a down economy—but unfortunately, budget concerns may hinder this bill’s ability to provide the support that farmers are looking for. The Trump administration is looking for ways to reduce spending—particularly within the realm of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assist Program) which accounts for quite a bit of the budget for the 2018 bill. Unfortunately for farmers, the proposed changes to SNAP have not been well received. The Trump administration has also cut funding to FMD and MAP programs, arguing that these programs are simply doubling down on efforts being made by private entities. These programs are responsible for reducing foreign import constraints and promoting agricultural markets respectively and not everyone agrees with the decision to cut funding—previously covered under the 2014 Farm Bill—to these programs.
The agricultural industry is due to undergo a state of change. Technologies geared toward improving efficiency and sustainability are appearing and evolving rapidly. With companies like Google and IBM putting energy into agricultural R&D, this sector of the tech world is going to begin ramping up exponentially. We’re gearing up for the future—by 2050, experts say we’ll need to increase our food output by 100% to support the growing population. Farmers need some level of financial security to make capital investments in these technologies so that they can increase their efficiency to the levels that will be required of them in the future.
One potential source of relief—albeit a minor one—comes from the strangest of places: the rear end of a cow. A bipartisan committee is currently fighting to pass a bill titled the FARM Act (Fair Agricultural Reporting Method), which aims to eliminate a bureaucratic process that is largely considered to be a waste of time and resources. Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), companies and organizations are required to document and disclose dumping of waste. This program was largely geared toward companies releasing toxic and chemical waste—such as factories. In 2008, the EPA passed an exemption to this bill for the agricultural industry but last April (2017), the DC Circuit Court of Appeals repealed this exemption. The FARM Act aims to reinstate this exemption and prevent farmers from having to use precious resources to comply with a practice that is, again, largely considered to be a waste of time. Legislators are hopeful that, with a bit of work, they will be able to get this common sense bill passed this year.
Pakistan and the Cotton Industry
by Alex H Stone
Despite a mostly flat agricultural economy, the cotton industry has been seeing some exciting numbers for the past couple years now and farmers are hopeful that this will continue. Experts predict a rise from 12.5 million bales to 13 million bales for 2018. However, there is a potential hazard here.
Pakistan imports a large amount of cotton from the United States. In fact, cotton is our biggest agricultural export to Pakistan. Recently, US relations with Pakistan have been strained after President Trump made negative remarks about the country in his first tweet of 2018. The following day, Pakistan announced that it’d officially adopted Yuan, the official currency of China, as a currency for trade.
Further straining the relationship between the US and Pakistan, the Trump administration announced a freeze on the aid that the United States has been offering to Pakistan. It is unlikely that these strains in the US Pakistani relationship will result in a complete cessation of trade between the two countries, but the present diplomatic situation could make for a certain level of volatility in cotton export market.