Drones have been a topic of conversation lately, unfortunately often in a bad light. But drones, properly called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) can have positive uses. Thanks to a recent certification, studies at a University of Missouri research center could find uses for UAS in agriculture, journalism and endless other possibilities.
With being granted a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Wurdack Research Center has become one of a few locations in the country approved to fly UAS.
The center in rural Cook Station is operated by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) and has historically been known for its beef cattle and forage research but recently has looked at timber stand improvement and agroforestry systems.
“This COA broadens the utilization of Wurdack and the role of our Agricultural Research Centers to provide research to the people,” said Dusty Walter, superintendent of Wurdack. “Technology has always played a key role in agriculture. This COA allows us to be on the leading edge of integration in management systems. This will be a huge benefit for Missourians.”
Approval of the COA involved collaboration with the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla and Saint Louis University. Currently the institutions have trained pilots to fly one fixed-wing UAS equipped with cameras and special sensors for research.
The nearly 3-pound craft with a 30-inch wingspan has the capability to fly a pre-determined flight pattern using GPS. By FAA standards, the craft cannot exceed an altitude of 400 feet and every flight has to be logged with the FAA.
Some uses for UAS in agriculture have already been determined to work in reaching better efficiency levels on the farm. Using cameras, the craft can help with crop scouting or surveying a property.
“How many times have we all driven out looking for a lost calf?” added Walter. “Instead of wasting fuel and time spent driving around, fire up the UAS and easily scout your pastures.”
Researchers across the county also have found that modifying cameras to read infrared light can aid in finding specific nutrient deficiency areas in a field. This allows a more direct, efficient application of lesser chemicals in a when-needed style of management.
Beyond agriculture, a camera mounted on a UAS can help survey a dangerous accident scene for newsgathering for journalists, assist police officials looking for a wanted suspect or aid rescue teams to search for victims in need of aid. Several conservation agencies have begun to look at potentials of UAS use for waterfowl counts and tree canopy analysis for growth and climate change.
Many believe this is just the beginning of a new frontier for UAS in the public and private sector.
“In the future we are looking to have a COA for more of CAFNR’s Agricultural Research Centers that located across the state to help better provide information to our regional producers,” said Walter. “I hope that this can help spur new industries in Missouri to not only benefit the producers, but the rest of the state as well.”
For more information about Wurdack, visit the center’s new website at http://wurdack.cafnr.org.