Missouri University of Science and Technology (MUST) Teaches Farmers How to Exploit Agricultural Drone Technology

Many US farmers would like to take advantage of drones to reduce their reliance on agricultural labor, improve their operating efficiency and reduce their farm costs.  But they may be unfamiliar with drone technology and reluctant to learn about it.  Some old-timers are downright suspicious of flying machines and feel more comfortable riding a tractor or horse.

Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (MUST) want to change all that.

A group of MUST teachers has just announced plans to teach farmers in Missouri to become more familiar with UAVs and their wide range of potential applications.  Many traditional farmers accustomed to Old School methods – but anxious to stay competitive globally – are beginning to sign up.

“One of our main goals will be to get more farmers up to speed with more modern technologies,” says Dr. Katherine Grote,  associate professor of geosciences and geological and petroleum engineering at MUST. “We want to educate them on the benefits of using drone technology to help with their work.”

Missouri has a proud farming tradition. In fact, the statue adorning the dome of the State Capitol is that of Ceres, the Greek goddess of the harvest. French settlers in the Sainte Genevieve area established the first farms in the state – way back in 1725.  Today, only Texas (with 225,000), among all 50 US states, has more farms than Missouri (92,000).

But Missouri (#22) ranks far behind Texas (#12) as a “drone-friendly” state, according to the Virginia-based Mercatus Center which publishes an annual scorecard.  The state lacks a state drone task force or a division within its transportation department to support drone development found in nearly two dozen other states.  And landowners have pushed for laws that strictly limit the ability of drones to fly over private property, including farms.  Other states allow for property owners to grant permission for overflights and to receive commercial fees in exchange for their airspace use.  Not Missouri.

MUST researchers envision a hands-on learning curriculum that will allow their students to conduct extensive field tests – with their own farms serving as a living laboratory.  Farmers will be shown how modern methods of “precision agriculture”  – which targets aerial seeding and spraying at areas of a farm most in need, limiting farm input waste – can lower their costs and improve their yields.

Despite their traditional reliance on tractors and crop-dusting aircraft, as well as field labor, farmers in Missouri are under growing pressure to adopt new state-of-the-art farm technologies.  Increased global competition, record droughts and natural disasters and threatened federal cutbacks to crop and commodity insurance programs are threatening their profit-margins – and more farms are going under.  India and China, among other leading farm competitors, have turned to agricultural drones with a vengeance.

MUST’s curriculum is hardly the first.  Universities in Texas, Tennessee and Michigan have also instituted courses for farmers on the benefits of precision agriculture.  In addition, some organizations like Farm-i-Tude offer online training in drone use specifically targeted at the “next generation” US farmer – including youth still in their teens.  Farm-i-tude also offers training programs for up-and coming drone pilots to ensure their compliance with Part 137 FAA regulations on agricultural drone use.  Currently, it’s the only U.S. educational institution with an FAA-certified Part 137 training program.

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