Farmers Fear Impact of Anti-DJI Drone Act on Crops

The recent surge in agricultural technology has brought about significant advancements, particularly in the use of drones for crop spraying. However, a new piece of legislation targeting Chinese drone manufacturer DJI Technologies is causing a stir among American farmers. The Countering CCP Drones Act (HR 2864), which aims to block DJI from obtaining future FCC licenses and potentially revoke existing ones, has raised concerns within the agricultural community.

Russell Hedrick, a first-generation farmer from Hickory, North Carolina, has been vocal about the potential repercussions of this legislation. Hedrick, who holds state and world records for soybean and dryland corn yields respectively, emphasized the critical role DJI drones play in modern farming. “This only came to most people’s attention when it passed in the House, but I can tell you farmers in my state have been blowing up the phone lines of Senator Budd and Senator Tillis about this,” he told AgFunderNews.

Hedrick’s reliance on DJI drones is not unique. He uses multiple models, including the T40, T50, and Mavic 3 E, for various agricultural tasks such as spraying and mapping. “We use the T40, the T50, a Mavic 3 E for mapping and we do NDVI analysis so that we apply the appropriate amounts of nitrogen,” he explained. The technology, he noted, is superior to anything else on the market, especially when it comes to handling crops at advanced stages of maturity where ground sprayers fall short.

The proposed legislation, driven by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and introduced in April 2023, gained momentum after being attached to a defense spending bill that passed the House on June 14. Should similar provisions be included in the Senate version and signed into law, the restrictions could take effect by the end of the year. Hedrick is concerned about the lack of viable American alternatives to DJI drones. “If we had American-made drones using American-made parts with American-made software that were as affordable and as good as DJI, we wouldn’t have an issue. But right now, they don’t exist, and I don’t see them existing in the next 5-10 years because we don’t have the capacity and technology to keep up,” he said.

Security concerns have been cited as a primary reason for the legislation. However, Hedrick argues that these fears are unfounded. “Everything that could be gotten from the images of a drone our government already freely gives away,” he pointed out. He also noted that there has never been a confirmed case of a DJI drone being hijacked mid-flight, dismissing the security concerns as fear mongering.

The legislation could benefit US-based drone maker Skydio, whose director of federal policy was previously a national security advisor to Congresswoman Stefanik. Hedrick sees this as a conflict of interest, suggesting that vested interests are at play. “There are clearly vested interests at play here,” he remarked, adding that the language of the bill is vague and creates uncertainty for farmers who have heavily invested in DJI technology.

In response, DJI Technologies issued a statement opposing the legislation, arguing that it undermines fair competition and could jeopardize the economic well-being of the US. “The actions taken against DJI suggest protectionism and undermine the principles of fair competition and an open market,” the company stated. DJI also highlighted that approximately four out of every five Agras drones used by US farmers are DJI models, emphasizing the potential disruption to the agricultural sector.

As the debate continues, the agricultural community remains on edge, awaiting the final outcome of the proposed legislation. The implications of the Countering CCP Drones Act could be far-reaching, affecting not only the availability of advanced drone technology but also the overall productivity and economic stability of US farming operations.

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