Amid privacy concerns, drones could benefit local farmers

A drone that could be used for farming was demonstrated on Wed, Mar. 12, 2014 in Oshkosh. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)
A drone that could be used for farming was demonstrated on Wed, Mar. 12, 2014 in Oshkosh. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

OSHKOSH - Wisconsin farmers could be turning to drones. The unmanned flying devices are being sold in the state. However, privacy concerns are being raised as drone use expands across the country.

The drones were on display at a farm equipment show Wednesday in Oshkosh. The devices come with strict rules.

They are only two feet wide, but they can take pictures of crops and fields from hundreds of feet up in the air.

A model made by Precision Drone, and sold locally by Riesterer & Schnell, costs around $17,500.

Larry Van Straten of Shiocton plans to buy a drone to use on his farm this year. He says it's an investment that will save him time spent surveying his 2,500 acres of crops.

"We'll be able to do 160 acres probably in ten minutes, 15 minutes, where I scout probably four to five hours every day. This will be minutes now instead of hours," said Van Straten.

Van Straten says diseases in crops can spread when walking through them, so surveying them with a drone will solve that problem.

Privacy advocates are worried drones would be used to record people in private places like their backyard.

State Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, addressed those concerns in a bill.

"We have to have this conversation," said Petrowski.

The legislation would make it a crime to use a drone in places where people have a "reasonable expectation of privacy."

"But I think people do have a right to privacy that they would expect to have privacy in their backyard and certain places," said Petrowski.

The state Senate passed the bill last month. The Assembly still has not taken it up. Gov. Scott Walker would also have to sign it.

Private drone users also have to follow the same federal laws that cover traditional remote-controlled airplanes.

Drones must be flown under 400 feet. They also must stay within eyesight of the controller and away from airports and populated areas. They can't be used at night.

Van Straten says following the rules won't be a problem. He's just eager to speed up his work with a new piece of technology.