5 ways unmanned drones could affect the American food supply

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

ASU using drones to photograph campus buildings.

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio (AP) – The Ohio/Indiana Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center plans to begin flying a small drone over designated farm fields this year in collaboration with a western Ohio college.When Clark State Community College President Jo Alice Blondin first came to Ohio nearly two years ago, she knew using drones with its agriculture program “was a real opportunity.” Clark State isn’t the first community college to venture into using unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as unmanned aerial systems and commonly referenced as drones.Bill Smith, executive director of marketing and communications for the university, said his office uses unmanned aviation — or drones — to capture images from the air. “The drone, from a photography standpoint, allows us to capture images of buildings that saves the university costs because we’re not having to hire someone else to do it,” he told The Jonesboro Sun. “It’s mostly for internal historical record, but we’re letting some of those images go out to the public.” Smith is the go-to guy when it comes to flying the drone, mostly because of experience and interest.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently authorized the center to fly an unmanned aircraft system over fields owned by the city of Springfield and leased to farmers. Sinclair Community College in Dayton first looked into using drones during a 2008 trade mission trip to Israel, and a handful of other U.S. community colleges have developed some type of drone program. But earlier this month Clark State became the latest institution of higher education to receive a certificate of authorization to fly drones over fields near the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. He also served on the Arkansas Air Museum Board. “I did some RC stuff in the past when it was aircraft instead of helicopters and quadcopters, and I’ve dabbled back and forth with getting a pilot’s license,” he said. “I’m the only one who flies our drone, because we want to be very careful. These drones will collect data for students in the school’s two-year precision ag program, which began this past August. “It gives our students real-time data that they can analyze and they can help real farmers with,” said Blondin, who spoke with this newspaper in Washington, D.C., as a guest of Speaker of the House John Boehner for this past Tuesday’s State of the Union address. ”And with one in seven jobs in Ohio being related to agriculture, and within our region there are nearly 1,200 farms, this is just a great opportunity to test their skills.” “Industry will develop around how the farmer uses (the data),” Blondin said. “For example, he sees if there are low levels, or various levels of chemicals, and he needs to provide chemicals in this field — and I’m talking down to the millimeter now, so you’re not wasting.

The earliest drone data will be used in classes would be this May or next January, said Blondin, whose program is receiving support from Springfield-based SelectTech GeoSpatial. I don’t fly at night, I don’t let the aircraft get out of my line of sight, and I don’t fly too high.” For Smith, erring on the side of caution is a matter of best practice. Students will focus on the interpretation of the data as opposed to just the collection of data and flying of the drone, said Aimee Belanger-Haas, Clark State’s assistant dean of business and applied technologies.

Clark State also hopes to work with the farmers to measure how determining things like when to apply fertilizer and pesticides helps in reducing cost and increasing yield, Belanger-Haas said. “Clark State is arming our future agricultural workforce with the skills needed to use a range of tools, including UAS, to gather and process data into usable knowledge that ultimately will improve the farmer’s bottom-line,” the center’s executive director, Dick Honneywell, said. Why would you require people to be able to control a 1,600-pound aircraft that relates in no way to a quadcopter?” “We’re really nowhere near commercial use, but pending FAA regulations, the College of Agriculture could be a lot closer to more technical uses,” he said. “For us, there’s the flying difficulty and the aircraft standpoint, and then there’s the photography angle. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he has “worked extensively” to strengthen unique drone ag capabilities and increase Ohio’s leadership in defense and aerospace. “I am committed to advancing our state’s leadership role in unmanned systems,” said Portman. “Ohioans have a unique ability to develop and build cutting-edge technologies and aerospace equipment with work done at our academic institutions like Clark State, the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson, NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and industry partners.” Sen. An additional $100,000 will be invested in the program as the educational tools are needed, said Amit Singh, Clark State’s vice president of academic affairs. That money will be spent by this fall semester, he added. “They need to know the whole business,” he said. “Analyzing is the most important piece … but we’re training them to be fully skilled to do the job.” Jeff Robinson, communications director for the Ohio Board of Regents, said precision ag is an emerging field “that provides a variety of employment opportunities” which will assure “that they will be ready for these jobs that call for skilled workers.” “The view from the curriculum perspective and from the emerging fields perspective is that this industry is going to grow, and we’re betting on it.

So I think when all those things come together, precision agriculture just makes sense.” Blondin said this program could lead Clark State to developing other suites of curriculum around precision ag with Central State University in Wilberforce — most notably aquaculture.

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