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Forum to examine use drone technology in agriculture

By Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Upcoming forum examines use of drone technology in agriculture.

Jeff Lorton believes drone technology is the next big thing in agriculture, and he’s determined to make sure it lands in Yamhill County, the center of Oregon’s world-class wine industry.

Lorton, the county’s part-time economic development manager, has organized a Dec. 9 “Precision Farming Forum” to introduce the concept to farmers, vineyard operators and nursery managers. Experts in the field of UAVs – unmanned aerial vehicles – will discuss the possibilities and realities during the all-day session.

“There’s an application for nearly every agriculturist coming in the near future,” Lorton said.

The forum happens Monday, Dec. 9, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Leslie Lewis Pavilion of the Yamhill County Fairgrounds, 2070 N.E. Lafayette Ave., McMinnville. Admission is free, but online tickets are necessary for entry. To register, go to www.growyamhillcounty.com and click on the “Events” tab.

Enthusiasts believe small, unmanned planes equipped with cameras and other sensors can be of great benefit in agriculture, forestry, wildlife management and law enforcement. In farming, their potential uses include flying over nurseries to do inventory and identifying areas of plant damage, disease or irrigation problems. Larger drones could carry payloads of pesticides or fertilizer, an application now being tested at vineyards in California’s Napa Valley.

“It’s a big game changer in agriculture,” Lorton said. “The Holy Grail of it is crop diagnostics.”

Lorton believes drone technology will spawn a myriad of economic opportunities for spin-off industries, in addition to luring engineers and software developers. He hopes Yamhill County will become a center for the industry.

Speakers at the forum include Oregon State University forestry engineering professor Michael Wing, who is part of OSU’s newly formed Unmanned Vehicle System Research Consortium. In an OSU news release earlier this year, Wing described the state as the perfect spot for UAV testing.

“Within about 100 miles you can go from the Pacific Ocean to seashore dunes, coastal mountains, agricultural valleys, rivers, urban areas, many types of forest, volcanoes, lava fields, alpine peaks, canyons and high sagebrush desert,” Wing said in the news release.

Other speakers include Ryan Jenson, chief executive of HoneyComb Corp., a fledgling Portland company that has developed a drone specifically intended for agriculture.

At 3:30 is a panel discussion on “UAVs and the Oregon Farmer.”



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