ORLANDO, Fla. — A disagreement over regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, arose during a policy vote during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention on Jan. 12.

Each year, delegates representing state Farm Bureau organizations vote to revise the national group’s policies regarding a variety of subjects, with most changes approved with a simple voice vote of “yay” or “nay.”

The AFBF’s existing policy recommendation calls for the Federal Aviation Administration to allow commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles subject to reasonable safety requirements, among other provisions.

A proposed modification to the policy, which called for allowing drones to be flown beyond the operator’s line of sight as long as they’re equipped with “sense and avoid” technology, exposed a rift in the organization’s thinking about them.

Several delegates said they disagree with the policy due to “near misses” experienced by traditional aerial applicators who fear for their safety.

After a voice vote on the issue failed to yield a clear result, outgoing AFBF president Bob Stallman called for an electronic vote on the revision.

Delegates ended up approving the recommendation allowing specially equipped drones to fly beyond the operator’s line of sight by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

The electronic voting machines were also used to vote on a Farm Bureau policy related to family and moral responsibility that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Delegate Clark Hinsdale of Vermont sought to remove the provision, saying the policy made more sense when there was still a public debate over the federal “Defense of Marriage Act,” which banned gay marriage and was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.

The policy revision also called for the elimination of language in which the Farm Bureau states its opposition to special privileges for those who “engage in alternative lifestyles.”

Hinsdale said this provision could be interpreted so broadly as to include farmers and ranchers, who are a small minority of the U.S. population.

Opponents of the changes said the Farm Bureau should retain its moral stance on these issues regardless of changes in national law, with which a majority of delegates agreed.

After Hinsdale asked for an electronic vote on the revision, it was rejected by a margin of 82 percent to 18 percent.

Whether risk management programs should be extended to cotton seeds in addition to other oilseeds also proved contentious.

Cotton prices are currently depressed, which has led cotton growers — primarily from the South — to ask the USDA to extend assistance to the industry.

Several farmers spoke out against this recommendation, saying the change could cost as much as $1 billion that has not been appropriated under the 2014 Farm Bill, which would effectively mean budget reductions for other agriculture programs.

After an electronic vote, the delegates agreed with the policy recommending the inclusion of cottonseeds in federal risk management programs by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.


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