Kansas and farm economy ready to cash in on burgeoning UAS industry

"It's another component of the exciting things that are happening in agriculture. In some ways, this is proven technology by the military. We're seeing how to apply it in other places." -Joe Kejr, Saline County farmer

By Tim Unruh Salina Journal BROOKVILLE - When there is time away from traditional farming, Josh Kejr hones his skills at the controls of a $1,200 miniature helicopter. While the Quadcopter hovers at 400 feet or lower above his family's farmstead in western Saline County, an on-board video camera captures footage of the landscape that he can download to a computer.

"Right now, I'm just kind of messing around," said Kejr, 23. He completed a degree in agriculture technology management in May from Kansas State University, Manhattan, and is farming full time with his parents, Joe and Geena Kejr. "There could be some huge benefits. We're just getting into it," Josh said. Waiting for approval Many are doing the same, while the nation waits for federal approval to use unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in a number of applications. Several industries are poised to flourish when the remote-controlled flying machines are approved for commercial use. Congress has mandated that the Federal Aviation Administration create the regulations to fly UAVs in national airspace by 2015, said Kurt Barnhart, director of the Applied Aviation Research Center at Kansas State University at Salina. This semester there are 35 students pursuing unmanned aerial systems certificates, aiming to secure employment in the industry when the time is ripe, in about a year and a half, he said. "This is going to revolutionize agriculture in the world in certain aspects," said Kevin Price, an agronomy and geography professor at K-State, Manhattan. He's retiring from the university in a few weeks and will continue his work in the private sector. "It's new technology, just like auto-steer tractors, variable-rate planters and fertilizer applicators, yield-mapping and all the new machinery," said Tom Maxwell, agricultural Extension agent for Saline and Ottawa counties. Newfangled machines Kejr intends to use his Quadcopter to scout fields for problems, such as weed and insect pressures. He's used it to film a family gathering - his grandfather Harry Kejr's 90th birthday last month - and view the landscape from above. Josh's father, Joe, is impressed with the video quality and eager to see what becomes of the newfangled machines. "It's another component of the exciting things that are happening in agriculture," Joe Kejr said. "In some ways, this is proven technology by the military. We're seeing how to apply it in other places." In a growing circle of professionals, the copters and fixed-wing UAVs are no longer considered pricey toys, but pieces of equipment that will make farming and ranching more efficient. More jobs and money Agriculture, Price says, will reap some huge benefits. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International expects more than 70,000 jobs and $13.6 billion in economic effect will be created in the United States during the first three years of UAS integration, and exceed 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic effect by 2025. AUVSI ranks Kansas seventh among states with the highest potential, with nearly $3 billion in economic effect, $29.1 million in taxes and 3,716 jobs created between 2015 and 2025, according to the forecast. Applications of unmanned systems include wildfire mapping, law enforcement, disaster management, power line surveys and weather monitoring, but agriculture has a 10-fold advantage in uses compared to the others, Price said. He's been working in satellite imagery and global positioning systems for 33 years. "GPS is hot," Price said. "This is even hotter." Rock star treatment The professor's example is the rock star treatment he receives when speaking on the subject, and his bookings are reaching around the globe. Price or another K-State representative will speak from 10 to 11:30 a.m., in the 4-H Building, March 26 at the Mid-America Farm Exposition, in Kenwood Park. The topic was in sizzle mode at the Kansas Ag Research and Technology Association meeting in Salina during January 2013. Price was slated for a 90-minute presentation, but the show went overtime. "He talked for three hours, and they told him to keep going. People were just riveted," Maxwell said. In a 350-seat meeting room in San Antonio Jan. 11, he said there was a butt in every seat and there were folks lining the walls for his talk to the U.S. Farm Bureau Federation. Price is planning a trip to China. Officials from Belarus visited Manhattan in mid- February to meet with Price, graduate students, and Pat Coyne, a recently retired KSU professor. A hit with the media Price said he's been quoted in USA Today out of Washington, D.C., the London-based Reuters news agency (his call came from Chicago). "I've even had calls from Al Jazeera America (news agency) out of San Francisco," Price said. Josh Kejr said his Quadcopter can stay aloft for 15 minutes. As with any technology, there are more expensive models that are capable of doing more, and doing it longer before batteries need charged. Price's department is building fixed-wing airplanes for about $2,000, and the copters can be put together for $3,000 to $8,000. "Some of the planes take 60 to 100 hours to build. That might explain why they're so expensive," Price said. "These are not toys. They're high-precision instruments." Plane a day, for now A fully outfitted Ag Eagle fixed-wing unmanned airplane runs $12,500, said Bret Chilcott, owner and director of sales at the Ag Eagle company, based in Neodesha. After working with KState 21?2 years to research UAVs, Ag Eagle started building and selling its airplanes last fall. They're shipped all over the world to farmers and agronomists. The crew of eight people is able to make one plane a day, Chilcott said. By April, Ag Eagle will be making two flying wings a day; more than that by May. The Ag Eagle is easy to use, Chilcott said. "It's a simple system. A guy doesn't have to be a pilot," he said. "It will automatically take off, scan the field (with GPS coordinates) and it auto lands." Captured images, some infrared, will help farmers and agronomists determine the health and needs of crops. Onboard equipment "can export geo-shaped files that create a map that the precision chemical applicators can use, so that the chemicals are only applied where they're needed," Chilcott said. They're learning to fly UAV operators can learn to be pilots, Price said. His students start with flight simulator software, such as Realflight 7, which is available from Amazon.com. Local flying clubs are available. He also suggests joining the Academy of Model Aeronautics that comes with a $2 million liability insurance policy. "They should become a member. Learn the safety rules so they're not doing unsafe things, and respect other people's privacy," Price said. In the agriculture arena, K-State at Salina is a "research enabler," Barnhart said. His department is working to integrate payloads to the UAVs, develop systems to collect and disseminate data so folks in the various fields, such as agriculture and veterinary medicine, can "exploit the data," he said. Last August, K-State at Salina became the first entity in the lower 48 states to be authorized to test certification standards for unmanned aircraft systems weighing 55 pounds or less. "We're well-positioned to bring this industry to Kansas," Barnhart said. Waiting on the FAA Before any of those UAV dreams can really mushroom into an economic driver, Barnhart said, a ruling from the FAA is imperative. Currently, a cumbersome certificate of authorization is needed to test these aircraft in national airspace. Farmers and others can operate UAVs over their own land at 400 feet elevation or less, but they cannot charge others for their services. "(New rules) are what's needed for getting into the national airspace on a routine basis," he said. "We think there will be some mechanism to get these vehicles in the air by 2015." Permission could be here now, depending on how a March 6 federal appeals decision is interpreted. A judge with the National transportation Safety Board, overturned a $10,000 fine by the FAA against someone who used a drone to make a promotional video over the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 2011, according to a online report from Bloomberg News on mashable.com. Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that the FAA had no authority over that small UAV. "Some people are interpreting that (decision) as opening up the skies. Commercialization may be a lot quicker," Price said. The FAA has appealed Geraghty's decision. Kind of a dreamer The Kejrs are eager to see where the new technology takes them. Harry Kejr "was always kind of a dreamer," son Joe said, and he's passed that yearning for what's new on to the family's younger members. "In my day, turning a wrench is what you needed to know how to do," Kejr said. "In this day, it's the electronics. This generation understands it."

Dow on on the farm

Unmanned aeriel vehicles, or UAVs, are predicted to be a boon for agriculture. But how? Saving money. It's been suggested that half the fertilizer applied to land is wasted. UAVs will help apply nutrients and chemicals precisely where they're needed, and in the correct amounts. Saving time. Eventually, farmers and others can scan fields, as opposed to walking or driving them. Aerial footage, some using infrared, will produce data to create a map for precision chemical application. Locating stock. Ranchers can use the machines to check cattle and find out where they're calving. Feeding humanity. By 2050, it's estimated there will be 9 billion who need to be fed - with the same amount of land and the same amount of water, or less. - See more at: http://www.salina.com/news/Kansas-and-farm-economy-ready-to-cash-in-on-burgeoning-UAS-industry#sthash.JbxsT6z7.dpuf