Drone use in precision agriculture and other settings is slated to be discussed at a conference from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 5 at the Riverside Hotel, 2900 Chinden Blvd., Boise.
The conference aims to establish an Idaho working group of public- and private-sector drone customers, consultants, manufacturers, software developers, owners and operators, according to event marketing information.
Determining future needs and networking are among other goals. Experts from government, private and academic sectors are scheduled to deliver updates from regional and federal perspectives.
Fourth-generation farmer Robert Blair, a pioneer in using drones in agriculture, will be the featured keynote speaker. Event organizers say he has been “on the leading edge of precision agriculture utilization in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the U.S.”
He started in precision agriculture in the early 2000s by using a handheld personal digital assistant for simple mapping. He subsequently brought in different equipment including drones. The Blair Three Canyon Farms principal was 2009 PrecisionAg Institute International Farmer of the Year.
Blair, who recently has used a fixed-wing configuration to gather field imagery and multi-rotor setups to test possibilities for seeding and spraying, said he plans to cover how drone technology has advanced and pushed boundaries of current regulation.
Improvements in vehicles, batteries and software mean drones have potential to be useful beyond low-altitude, line-of-sight flying, taking on tasks like helping to suppress wildfires; evaluating storm, earthquake and avalanche damage; and checking the condition of roads and bridges, he said.
“The other thing I will be touching on would be looking at what are the challenges we are facing — not only in the drone industry, but in Idaho — and the opportunities we have,” Blair said.
He has held leadership positions with state and national farm and commodity organizations. He worked on the initial advisory board for Drone World Expo. An agricultural technology and drone consultant, he manages 1,300 acres of dryland wheat, barley, peas, lentils, chickpeas, alfalfa and cows near Kendrick, in the state’s north-central region.
Conference sponsors are the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience, the Idaho Department of Transportation and the state Office of Emergency Management.