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Meeting Ohio agriculture’s need for drone training

A recent survey of members of the Ohio Agribusiness Association shows that Ohio and agricultural businesses need to train employees to use Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, for precision agriculture to provide more value for customers and potentially increase profitability. Ninety percent of the survey respondents said their current employees will eventually require some form of UAS training.

The survey was sponsored by Sinclair College, that is home to the UAS Training and Certification Center. Sinclair College also recently announced the addition of new UAS courses, certificates and degree programs focused on civil applications, including precision agriculture, to meet future demands for a trained workforce within the emerging industry.

“We wanted to hear directly from industry how they envision the potential of UAS monitoring and data collection integrating into their existing and future precision agriculture programs,” said Deb Norris, vice president for Workforce Development at Sinclair College. “We found there is a great need for information and training on all aspects of UAS, including general knowledge, technician training, maintenance, regulatory compliance, and crew and pilot training.”

Respondents cited moderate awareness and understanding of the need for and potential of UAS technology in the agriculture industry. In addition, survey respondents cited a deficit of information available for calculating tangible returns on investment in their precision agriculture programs.

Sinclair plans to offer a UAS Summit for Precision Agriculture in early 2015 as agribusinesses prepare for expected changes to the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial UAS regulations.

“Just recently the FAA said that this technology may not be used for broad commercial application, but precision ag has been named as one of the initial integration points for drone use,” said Dr. Andrew Shepherd, Sinclair’s Director of Unmanned Aerial Systems. “So in the next year we will see initial guidance from the FAA on how they can be used and I truly think the use of drones will trickle all the way down to the small farmers. It may be a service company that comes out to the farm and does the flight or it may become inexpensive enough that every farm, no matter the size, will be able to take advantage of this technology.”

Sinclair’s UAS Training and Certification Center is built on a systems approach to UAS and framework of airspace and infrastructure, credit and non-credit curriculum and training, modeling and simulation, and data analytics. All of these components are essential in applying UAS to precision agriculture. The Center, in Dayton, allows for the consolidation and integration of both academic and workforce development initiatives in aviation and UAS. The program has the capability to both educate new students in UAS and retrain the industry’s existing workforce.

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