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.
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. The flights will be conducted to assess crop health in support of a precision agriculture degree program at Clark State Community College, according to statements from the center and the college.
The drone will fly out of the Springfield Municipal Airport and must remain at or below 400 feet above ground level. It will collect sensor data during planting and harvest seasons. That data will be processed and analyzed by students in the school's precision agriculture program and then shared with the farmers.
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.
"There will be many more jobs in data interpretation versus flying," she said.
The students will learn how to determine the overall health of crops, spot early diseases and identify specific pest infestations among other things.
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.
A licensed pilot will fly the unmanned aircraft system, with test flights expected to begin in the spring.