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Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Acting Chairman Frank Lucas: Big Data and Agriculture: Innovation in the Air

Remarks as prepared:

Thank you all for being here for this hearing exploring Big Data and Agriculture: Innovation in the Air. This is our second hearing in a series to educate Members about the different facets of this new frontier in agriculture.

Production agriculture from one hundred years ago is markedly different than it is today. While our farmers are still producing many of the same crops, a plow once pulled by a team of mules is now pulled by a tractor that satellites guide through the field. When formerly the only option a farmer had to control weeds was tilling the field with major losses to water and wind erosion, pinpoint chemical and fertilizer application now enables the use of no-till farming techniques. 

While these are just two simple examples, an important piece underpinning much of the innovation in agriculture, and specifically in precision agriculture, is the development of imaging and mapping technology.  As we all know, maps of farmland and crops are not new, but the means of capturing and utilizing this imagery is constantly changing.

We will have an opportunity to hear about three technologies used to capture images – manned airplanes, satellites, and Unmanned Aerial Systems or drones.   Each of these technologies can serve a specific purpose for providing information based on imagery for farmers and improving their stewardship of natural resources and the sustainability of their farming operations. 

While we are only scratching the surface on the innovation that satellites and Unmanned Aerial Systems will bring to agriculture, manned airplanes also continue to play a vital role.  Aerial imagery from manned airplanes is the foundation of the administration of Farm Service Agency programs, such as ARC and PLC. We will hear more today about how FSA’s National Agricultural Imagery Program, or NAIP, is useful to farmers and to a broad spectrum of other users, which in the past have included companies such as Google.

This hearing is also timely since the FAA finalized the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, known as Part 107, which governs commercial use of drones, just this week. Commercial drone use will now be possible without the need to acquire a special exemption, which under the old regulations could take up to six months to be approved.  We will be engaging with industry to gather their views on the impacts of this new rule on the use of drones in agriculture.

Before I conclude and before we carry on with today’s hearing, I want to briefly change the subject.  You can all see that the Ranking Member and my good friend Mr. Walz is not at the hearing this morning.  As some of you may know, his brother Craig was killed in a tragic accident this past weekend and Craig’s son Jacob was seriously injured.  This is an incredibly difficult time for the Walz family, and I’d ask that you keep them all in your thoughts and prayers over the days and weeks ahead.

Ms. Graham has graciously agreed to fill in for him today, and I now recognize her for her opening statement.