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Published June 25, 2014, 04:30 PM

UAVs can be great asset to ag, speakers say

Unmanned aerial vehicles could be the next big thing in U.S. agriculture, but most farmers still have a lot to learn about them, according to John Perry, who heads Altavian, a Gainesville, Fla.-based unmanned aircraft company.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Unmanned aerial vehicles could be the next big thing in U.S. agriculture, but most farmers still have a lot to learn about them, according to John Perry, who heads Altavian, a Gainesville, Fla.-based unmanned aircraft company.

“Farmers don’t know how to apply drones to their operation,” Perry said.

But Perry and others in his industry say they’re more than happy to help farmers figure things out.

Perry spoke June 25 at the eighth annual Unmanned Aerial System Action Summit at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. The event, hosted by the Red River Research Corridor, began June 24 and ends June 26.

About 400 people are expected to attend.

David Dvorak, CEO of Field of View, a Grand Forks company that engineers and sells innovative aerial remote sensing products, also spoke.

Doug McDonald, director of special projects for Unmanned Applications Institute International, a Grand Forks-based research and applications institute, led the session. He called Perry and Dvorak “pioneers” in the relatively new but fast-growing UAV industry.

UAS is usually the industry’s preferred name, but UAV, drone and unmanned aircraft are used, too.

UAVs have many potential uses in agriculture, including monitoring crops. They have possible uses in other industries, too, and could create 100,000 new jobs and $82 billion in economic activity from 2015 to 2025, according to the industry’s leading trade group.

Agriculture could account for up to 80 percent of the gains, officials at the Grand Forks conference said.

With UAVs’ potential benefits in mind, Congress in 2012 ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with guidelines on how UAVs can be incorporated safely into the nation’s skies by 2015. Late last year, the FAA selected Grand Forks as one of six sites nationally where UAVs will be tested to meet that goal.

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Dvorak said UAVs are “fun.”

“They’re cool. But they have to pay for themselves.”

UAVs have different meanings to different people, Dvorak said.

For agriculturalists, they provide a platform to help collect data, with the data processed and analyzed to help farmers make decisions about their fields and crops, he said.

Data collected by UAVs is “just one piece of information” and needs to be used in conjunction with other tools, such as terrain maps, he said.

Farmers need to realize that there can be “hiccups” with using UAVs. For instance, cameras mounted on drones don’t always work properly, he said.

Perry said UAVs, despite their great promise, can’t do everything for farmers.

For instance, farmers will still need to physically inspect their crop, even if they use UAVs, he said.

The conference resumes at 8:15 a.m. June 26. Topics during the day include moral, ethical and legal issues; industry workforce development; and UAS airspace integration.

More information: www.theresearchcorridor.com/uassummit2014.

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