Farmers Rally Against Drone Act Threatening Crop Yields

The Countering CCP Drones Act (HR 2864) has ignited a firestorm among American farmers, particularly those in North Carolina, who rely heavily on Chinese drone maker DJI Technologies for their agricultural operations. The proposed legislation, which recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, aims to add DJI to the ‘covered list,’ effectively blocking the company from obtaining FCC licenses for future drone models and potentially revoking existing authorizations. This move has triggered a wave of concern among farmers and industry experts alike.

Russell Hedrick, a first-generation farmer from Hickory, North Carolina, has been vocal about the potential ramifications of this bill. Hedrick, who holds state and world records in soybean and dryland corn yields respectively, uses DJI drones extensively on his 1,000-acre farm. “This only came to most people’s attention when it passed in the House,” Hedrick told AgFunderNews. “But I can tell you farmers in my state have been blowing up the phone lines of Senator Budd and Senator Tillis about this.”

Hedrick’s concerns are not unfounded. DJI drones have become indispensable tools for many U.S. farmers, offering advanced capabilities in crop spraying and mapping that traditional methods can’t match. “We use the T40, the T50, and a Mavic 3 E for mapping and NDVI analysis to apply the appropriate amounts of nitrogen,” Hedrick explained. “There’s a limit on what ground sprayers can do after a crop reaches a certain maturity that these drones can then handle, which really increases our crop production.”

The bill, driven by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, was first introduced in April 2023 but only gained significant attention after being attached to a defense spending bill that passed in the House on June 14. Should similar provisions be added to the Senate version and signed into law, the restrictions could take effect by the end of the year.

Hedrick argues that the U.S. currently lacks a viable alternative 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 are a major driving force behind the bill, but Hedrick and others question their validity. “They keep talking about national security, but everything that could be gotten from the images of a drone our government already freely gives away,” Hedrick noted. He also pointed out that there has never been a confirmed case of a DJI drone being hijacked mid-flight, suggesting that the fears are overblown.

DJI Technologies has also pushed back against the proposed legislation. In a statement to AgFunderNews, the company emphasized its commitment to engaging with U.S. policymakers to ensure decisions are based on the quality and safety of its products, rather than their country of origin. “The actions taken against DJI suggest protectionism and undermine the principles of fair competition and an open market,” the company stated.

As the debate continues, farmers like Hedrick remain in a state of uncertainty. “US farmers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this technology, and people who have no idea how we raise crops in the US are making decisions that can ultimately affect huge numbers of people,” he said. The outcome of this legislative battle could have far-reaching implications for the future of agricultural technology in the United States.

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