Cornell Cooperative Extension to use drones for farm research in 10 upstate NY counties

Cornell Cooperative Extension's Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team will have a new tool in its arsenal to scout crops and conduct field research.

With the Federal Aviation Administration's approval of the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance's application to begin drone testing at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, Cornell Cooperative Extension will be allowed to use unmanned aircraft for research purposes in 10 upstate New York counties.

The list of counties doesn't include Cayuga County, but two neighboring counties — Seneca and Wayne — are on the list.

Bill Verbeten, regional extension agronomist with the Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team, said the first drone flights will occur in the coming weeks and the field evaluations will continue next year.

The first flight is planned for airspace over a Genesee County farm. Cornell Cooperative Extension will use the Lancaster Hawkeye Mk III manufactured by PrecisionHawk, a maker of unmanned aircraft based in Indianapolis and Toronto.

The goal of the testing, according to Verbeten, is to learn how drones could help farmers.

"Possible tasks that drones can do include taking NDVI measurements (how green the plants are) that enable variable rate nitrogen applications, using thermal imaging to more quickly detect insects and diseases and using a visual sensor to estimate crop yields, measure soil organic matter content, count corn and soybean populations, and determine ground cover from crop residue to cover crops," Verbeten wrote in an email.

"There are many unknowns at this point and that's why we are going to test a number of things out."

While the flights will focus on NWNY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team's home region, Verbeten said they may consider "limited evaluations" in nearby counties, including Cayuga County.

The NUAIR Alliance learned last week that the FAA issued a certificate of authorization allowing tests to begin at Griffiss International Airport. Griffiss is one of six drone test sites selected by the FAA.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said drone test flights, such as the tests approved for Cornell Cooperative Extension, can help the region's economy.

"I am confident that this will be the first of many more test flight approvals in the near future, and I will continue to push the FAA to move as quickly as possible because these test flights have the potential to bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic revenue to the entire region over the next few years," Schumer, D-N.Y., said.

Read the original article on auburnpub.com.