DJI Drone Ban Threatens US Farming Operations

Proposed legislation targeting Chinese drone maker DJI Technologies could have a devastating effect on the US agricultural sector, claimed opponents this week as an amendment designed to curb DJI’s activities in the US was tagged onto a defense spending bill moving through Congress. Introduced to the US House of Representatives in April 2023, the Countering CCP Drones Act (HR 2864) would add equipment and services from DJI—the market leader in ag spraying drones in the US—to the ‘covered list.’ This would prevent DJI from getting FCC (Federal Communications Commission) licenses for future drone models, and potentially lead to the revocation of existing FCC authorizations.

While the bill isn’t new, the move to tack it onto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed in the House last week, has sharply focused minds in the ag sector, which is heavily reliant on DJI drones. Should similar provisions be added to the Senate version of the NDAA, and the NDAA is signed into law, it could come into effect by the end of the year. And that would spell bad news for US farmers, who have been steadily increasing their use of spray drones in recent years, with 3.7 million acres sprayed by drone in 2023 across 41 states and 50 crops, mostly by Chinese-made drones, Agri Spray Drones CEO Taylor Moreland told AgFunderNews. “Not allowing people to operate Chinese-made drones in rural communities would be a job killer in rural America.”

The American Drone Security Act, passed in late 2023, prohibits federal agencies from acquiring unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) produced by certain foreign entities including DJI. A 2017 Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin claimed that “The Chinese government is likely using information acquired from DJI systems as a way to target assets they are planning to purchase. For instance, a large family-owned wine producer in California purchased DJI UAS to survey its vineyards and monitor grape production. Soon afterwards, Chinese companies began purchasing vineyards in the same area.”

Supporters of the bill claim DJI’s drones could send sensitive data to the Chinese government, while US drone maker Guardian Agriculture has described DJI drones as “the ultimate Trojan Horse” with the potential to go rogue mid-flight thanks to over-the-air software updates. Arthur Erickson, CEO at US drone maker Hylio, told AgFunderNews: “I do believe there are legitimate security concerns although I don’t think an outright ban is necessarily the right strategy. We’ve been in an agricultural information war with China for years and while it doesn’t sound dangerous, if you have enough drones scanning and spraying enough cropland to get a big enough sample size, with AI and modern data analysis, you can make a pretty good prediction about what US agricultural production is going to look like for a given season. And that’s going to give China economic leverage.”

“If you want to talk about doomsday scenarios, if they had enough drones they could overspray for an entire season and wipe out crops.” Adam Bercu, CEO at Guardian Agriculture, which is now manufacturing drones in Massachusetts and has secured a “9-figure” deal with ag products co Wilbur-Ellis, added: “We need to have the best products possible for the American grower and I think that the American farmer is underserved by only being offered products designed for the domestic Chinese market that are frankly inappropriate for western growers. Our productivity per dollar on the machine and operational costs on a per acre bases are 70-85% less than the Chinese drones because they’re built for western-style productivity.

“We think the US government should support the domestic industry, as China is clearly supporting its domestic industry. We’ve seen the US government do this with electric vehicles, so something like that would make a lot of sense with drones, where many countries are scrambling to develop domestic capabilities. “These devices are classified as chemical weapons delivery systems by the federal government. Is it okay to have thousands of machines that can carry 10+ gallons of poison that can be remotely controlled and connected to an adversarial foreign entity?”

DJI, in turn, has argued that supporters of the bill are making “inaccurate and unsubstantiated allegations regarding DJI’s operations, and have amplified xenophobic narratives in a quest to support local drone manufacturers and eliminate market competition.” DJI drones “do not collect flight logs, photos, or videos by default. And operators have to opt-in to share this data with us,” explained a recent blog post by the company, which has instead called for the establishment of industry-wide drone security standards that are “technology-based, not country of origin-based.”

As for drones ‘going rogue’ mid-flight, says the company, “Those who want to take extra precautions can easily choose to activate Local Data Mode (and even switch on their mobile’s ‘airplane mode’) for added peace of mind. This means the flight app is completely disconnected from the internet and is similar to an air

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top