Home Drone Opportunity
By Nathalie Hardy
Yamhill County commissioners and their newly created economic development office are teaming up to host a one-day Unmanned Aerial Systems Precision Farming Forum next month.
The aim is to bring industry experts together with farm owners, vineyard management owners, business owners, technology buffs and entrepreneurs to discuss agricultural applications for unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as UAVs or drones.
The idea rose out of a Robot Rodeo that Commissioner Allen Springer and Economic Development Director Jeff Lorton attended last month in Pendleton, a major farming hub for Oregon’s drier east side. Springer said they wanted to learn more about opportunities emerging as a technology once devoted largely to military uses and increasingly be applied to civilian uses.
Springer said they were inspired by what they learned. He said his fellow commissioners recognized potential in it as well.
The county already has a major UAV operation on a former RV dealership site at the south end of McMinnville, and thinks it could build around that.
“We’re all in agreement that this is a good use for our economic development money,” Springer said. “There’s no gray area here. We can clearly make a case that bringing these people together is the cutting edge of economic development.”
Lorton agreed, saying, “Precision farming ties in with the industries already strong in this county and promises the development of a new one; this ties into the agriculture, manufacturing and education sectors as well as the software sector.
“They all intersect with one another through unmanned aerial systems. So we asked ourselves, where could we be in a few years? Could Yamhill County be a national leader? We think it could.”
Lorton continued, “The big economic impact of UAVs isn’t from the aircraft itself, it’s from the software development that converts the images and data gathered by the aircraft into information relevant to farmers. These things can go in all weather and have cameras so advanced they can see bugs on leaves before we can.
“Fast forward 10 years, and there will be crop-specific software. That means, ultimately, the big payoff for us in Yamhill County is that with our agricultural diversity, we’re an ideal laboratory. There’s no reason Yamhill County can’t be an integral part of creating that plant-specific farmer software.”
As examples, he cited winegrapes and hazelnuts.
He went on to mention other advantages, noting, “Precision farming minimizes chemical use on farms and allows for a higher yield with less input. That’s the definition of sustainability. With better data through diagnostic plant data, farmers can make decisions about things like watering based on diagnostics instead of habit.”
Lorton said the budget for the forum was $2,500, which he considered minimal. He said McMinnville’s Northwest UAV would have a quarter-million-dollar ScanEagle UAV on display at the event, and a local group called the Roswell Flight Test Crew was planning to stage a demonstration for local FFA members.
The forum is slated for Monday, Dec. 9. For more information, visit www.growyamhillcounty.com.