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Purdue Extension helping Indiana farmers reach new heights with UAV demonstrations

 Unmanned aerial vehicles - better known as UAVs or drones - are transforming agriculture by providing farmers with a highly effective, cost-efficient tool to monitor soil and crop conditions. But like any new technology, the multi-rotor vehicles with onboard cameras can initially be as intimidating as they are impressive.

“This is perhaps the biggest innovation in agricultural technology I’ve seen,” said Bob Nielsen, Purdue Extension corn specialist for 36 years, as he guides a white UAV about the size of a toaster oven over the fields at Purdue’s Agronomy Center for Research and Education in West Lafayette. “The possibilities for data collection are tremendous.”

“But of course,” he adds, toggling the hand-held joystick that controls the vehicle and banking it into a gentle glide, “there is a learning curve.”

To help Hoosier farmers take full advantage of the promising new UAV technology, Purdue Extension is hosting a series of demonstrations throughout the state this summer. Participants will get hands-on, practical instruction in flight techniques and learn how to download and process the immense amount of data the drones can collect.

The demonstrations will be led by Purdue faculty and Extension specialists, as well as Extension educators and staff from Purdue agricultural research centers throughout the state.

“A vital part of our Purdue Extension mission is to research new agricultural technologies and help farmers develop best practices to use those technologies to their greatest capabilities,” said Jason Henderson, director of Purdue Extension. “Farmers have traditionally been early adapters of new technologies. Even in the early days of heavier-than-air flight, many farmers learned to fly and found a way to use those primitive aircraft to spray crops and scout fields.”

Mark Carter, Purdue Extension educator in Delaware County, said UAV imaging could be much more effective for farmers than satellite imaging. Typically, satellite flybys have to be booked in advance and can only be done once a day. UAVs, however, can produce a continuous series of images to track changes in crop damage, drainage problems, nutrient deficiency and disease over time.

“These demonstrations will be a great opportunity for anyone in the ag community interested in this new technology to learn more about the most effective UAV systems and management practices for their own operations,” Carter said.

Many analysts believe the data revolution in farming – made possible by the advent of sophisticated sensing and internet technologies collectively known as “digital agriculture” – can help producers cut costs and boost yields, at a critical time when a growing worldwide population and climate change are posing severe tests for the global food supply.

“The exciting thing about UAVs is that they multiply a farmer’s ability to collect data on everything from water use to nitrogen deficiency,” Carter said. “But the challenge is to effectively collect and process that data so the results are meaningful.”

During each session, presenters will discuss a number of UAV-related topics, including FAA regulations for flying on farms, vehicle selection and a survey of available technology for flight planning and mapping. There will be hands-on flight demonstrations - weather permitting - at each location.

The demonstration schedule, as of July 13, is as follows:

July 19: DeKalb County 2018 Agronomy Field Day; 4743 County Road 28, Waterloo. UAV demonstrations will begin at approximately 8:45, 9:45 and 10:45 a.m. EDT.

July 26: Corn Showcase at Purdue University Agronomy Center for Research and Education; 4540 U.S. Highway 52 W., West Lafayette. Travel to the demonstration begins at 10:20 a.m. EDT, with the demonstration beginning at 10:30 a.m. EDT. Registration at https://purdue.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eG3O3s7ZNow7ELH is preferred by Monday, July 16.

Aug. 9: Feldun-Purdue Agricultural Center; 1117 State Road 45, Bedford. The session with a UAV demonstration will begin at approximately 9:30 a.m. EDT.

Aug. 22: Pinney-Purdue Agricultural Center; 11402 South County Line Road, Wanatah. The UAV demonstration time is TBD.

Aug. 23: Northeast-Purdue Agricultural Center; 4821 East 400 South, Columbia City. The UAV demonstration will begin after lunch, at approximately 1:30 p.m. EDT.

Aug. 28: Southeast-Purdue Agricultural Center; 4425 East 350 North, Butlerville. The UAV demonstration will begin at 8 p.m. EDT following dinner.

Aug. 30: Davis-Purdue Agricultural Center; 6230 North State Road 1, Farmland. The UAV demonstration will begin at 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30 a.m. EDT.

Sept. 6: Field Crops Day at Purdue University Agronomy Center for Research and Education; 4540 U.S. Highway 52 W., West Lafayette. A welcome and introduction to UAVs begins at 8 a.m. EDT, with field demonstrations and discussions from 8:45 to 11:30 a.m. EDT. Lunch will follow, along with a general crops update. Register at https://purdue.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9MJKRQA5KRl3iIt by Aug. 30.

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