Farmer takes to the air with UAVs
By John O’Connell
KENDRICK, Idaho — The president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association hopes to be among the first to commercially use unmanned aerial systems to monitor farm fields.
Robert Blair, a Kendrick farmer, and his partners with the Idaho-based small businesses Empire Aerospace and Advanced Aviation Solutions have begun researching the feasibility of their concept.
Current regulations have allowed Blair to personally control UAS aircraft to monitor his farm fields from a low elevation as a hobby pilot since 2007. The Federal Aviation Administration must still approve a framework for licensing commercial entities to operate UAS aircraft before his business plans can move forward.
Government entities are now allowed to obtain special certificates of authorization through FAA to operate UAS aircraft for research purposes. Blair and his partners hopes to cooperate with Idaho State University and University of Idaho on UAS research. If either institution gets a COA approved by this season, Blair intends to hire a former military UAS operator to monitor his fields and record data, which would also help with legwork for his business. Additional testing and research may be done out of the country if FAA doesn’t approve UAS regulations soon.
On his own farm, Blair has spotted crop anomalies he’d missed from the ground, and he’s taken photographs documenting wildlife in his fields that enabled him to access Idaho Department of Fish and Game depredation funding.
“A yield monitor is reactive data. UAS provides proactive data. We can use the information from them to make management decisions during the growing season,” Blair said.
Advanced Aviation Solutions President and CEO Steven Edgar brings UAS technological expertise, having flown unmanned aircraft for the military.
Edgar intends for the business to offer statewide services initially, and his goal is to eventually expand to global services.
“We realize if we want to further expand the project, we have to be ready when the (FAA) rules are written,” Edgar said.
This season, Edgar and his partners intend to gather baseline data from multiple experimental fields regarding crop stresses.