Wikistrat recently concluded a geostrategic simulation titled “The Future of Drones.” The following is a scenario produced in the simulation called “Drones Revolutionize Farming.”
Agricultural applications will be one of the most important and popular civil uses of drones within the next decade. The ability for one person with a little tech knowledge to take over all surveying, fertilizing, seeding, and dusting will transform the agricultural industry.
Drones, including both fixed wing aircraft and quadcopters, are uniquely suited to provide affordable surveying and multi-spectral imaging capacity to farmers who want to maximize their crop yields and reduce the amount they pay for labor. Drones will greatly enhance farmers’ ability to obtain and utilize multi-spectral and hyper-spectral imagining to detect issues with crops before they harm crop yields. Disease and nutrient deficiencies will become more preventable with the help of drones.
Drones also have the ability to autonomously lay seeds, fertilize soil, and spray pesticides. All farmers will have to do is program the drones to fly a certain pattern over their fields. This will effectively automate most of the farming process, including harvesting which will be done by autonomous tractors and other vehicles. Since drones will be able to fly at low altitudes too low for manned vehicles, the spraying of pesticides can be more exact, resulting in more precise spraying with less drift beyond the limits of the field sprayed.
In addition, drones would be used by cattle farmers to keep count of their livestock either stolen or gone astray, or assist farmers in the herding of their cattle – keeping them in a safe area or driving them to market or to/from grazing areas. While animal welfare groups would use drones to monitor any wrong-doing at factory farms such as checking feedlots and gathering evidence where farming activities cause animals horrible distress.
In this case, drones will be used to monitor the environment (including surveying land and using multi-spectral imaging to gain more knowledge about how to maximize yields), distribute materials (including seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides), and track activity related to livestock.
The users will be individuals in the agriculture and cattle farming industry, including non-governmental organizations such as animal welfare. In most cases it will be the farmers themselves who operate the drones (the software used to program the drones’ flight paths and functions does not require a technical degree) but in some cases another person might come in to operate the drone for the farmer (perhaps private contractors).
The use of drones in farming could have major effects on the agricultural industry. Already there has been a trend toward having fewer farmers produce more crops and livestock using increasingly automated systems. Drones will take this a step further. The result will be even less people taking up farming as a profession and a continuation of the migration from rural areas to urban areas.
This could also lead to further pressure on labor unions to pursue better protection rights for farmworkers or seek heavily compensated packages from farm owners as drones cause job losses and replace the farmworker.
Additionally, the automation of farming could lead to an increase in output from farms. This increased output could be exported to food importing countries. This may play a role in mitigating a loss in global food production due to changing climates and droughts. The areas of the globe that end up being effected less by climate change will take up more of the burden of supplying food to other parts of the world by relying on automated farming technology to increase crop yields and food production in general.
New rules will be drafted by the FAA in the US and various other aviation agencies in other countries governing the use of drones by civilians. Likely, there will be few new restrictions on using UAVs to survey and farm land. The focus will be on laws that attribute liability to certain actors involved in civil suits. A number of civil suits regarding civilian use of drones for agriculture may lead to a new area of the law for lawyers to practice.
Privacy will also be an issue. Competitors may want to take multi-spectral images of each other’s fields to see how they are performing or how they could get a leg up on the competition. This may lead to new privacy laws protecting farmland from surveillance by other farmers or businesses.
Laws would likely have to address navigable airspace ownership by farmers, including a fixed height that drones can fly at above a landowners property, and trespassing laws would have to incorporate the intrusion of airspace that are intended for the purposes of eavesdropping. Furthermore, labor laws would likely have to be readjusted to better protect workers from job losses as a result of new technology. These types of laws could include for example, heavy compensation packages for farmworkers. These types of extra measures could help deter farm owners from seeking to lay off workers as drones become their replacement.
Wikistrat Analysts Matthew Parman, Cheryl-Anne Smith and Larry White contributed to this scenario.