Griswold and LaSalle presents discussion on drone tech in agriculture

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HANFORD CA — Farmers around the Valley gathered to see what information could be learned from a local law firm’s presentation about drones and agriculture.

Griswold, LaSalle, Cobb, Dowd & Gin LLP sponsored a talk at their offices about drones and agriculture that was presented by Jesus Garcia with Newman Garcia Photographic Studio and Gallery.

After setting up a display of different drones and safety tools used while operating drones, Garcia told the room a bit about his history.

Garcia came to Lemoore after being an aviation mechanic with the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years. After working with planes with the Marines, flying a drone from the ground came naturally for Garcia.

Garcia uses drones in his business to train other drone operators and to take aerial photos. Aside from using his drones to take pictures, Garcia has done mapping for alfalfa and other crop farms in the Hanford and Lemoore areas.

The mapping, he said, had been used to allow farmers to know where potentially stressed plants are – if they are not planted correctly, under watered, not receiving enough nutrients or other data points programmed into the drone’s software.

Steve Schweizer and Mario Gutierrez with the Kings County Agricultural Department said that in addition to seeing drones used to map crops they have seen people using them to apply fertilizer and release beneficial insects. Beneficial insects are bugs that pollinate or work as pest control.

Aaron Avila and Eddie started their company MAV Ag Drone Spraying with the intent to spray pesticides.

“Drones are cleaner because they spray less pesticide and don’t use fuel,” Avila said. “It’s more efficient and causes less pollution.”

What they can’t understand is why they need a pilot’s license, one for operating a manned plane, to operate their drone to spray pesticides.

As Garcia explained in his presentation, for many drone operators they only need their Remote Pilot Certificate with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The problem as explained by Charlotte Fadipe, spokesperson for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, is that the regulations for aviation spraying were written before drones were popular tools.

Fadipe said that the department is working to change regulations so unmanned air systems – drones – can be used to spray pesticides without the controller needing a complete pilot’s license and simply follow FAA guidelines for drones.

Although there are many applications for drones in agriculture, Julia Inestroza with Tenalu farm shared some limitations to drones and where there is room to grow in the drone and agriculture field.

Inestroza said that the Tenalu farm already used drone technology for mapping. Tenalu farm is located outside of Porterville.

One problem she has encountered is lack of fast and strong internet connection. In order for her to gain access to the data that her drone gathers, she needs to be able to upload it to the internet.

Inestroza said she had her drone complete a 100-acre mission. In order to upload the data, she had to drive into Porterville. She then used her friend’s business’ internet connection which she said may possibly have the fastest internet connection in town. The upload still took around three hours to complete.

Inestroza has heard other possible solutions like buying or renting server space, but she said without the strong internet connection for the rural farmer using drones can be a headache.

Despite the obstacle of the internet, Inestroza said that she is excited about where drones can go in the future.

One of her hopes is to further the efficiency that can be achieved by farmers through mapping.

Inestroza sees an application of detecting potential threats like pest infection and diseases as something possible for drones.

She said that pest control officers can come in an orchard and only be able to cover a portion of the crop. She said that with a drone it would be more possible to see an infection or problem faster which could potentially help increase yield for farmers.

“The whole purpose of using drones is to reduce inputs and costs,” Intestroza said.

She hopes that as time passes people in the Valley begin discussing more innovative ways to use technology like drones to improve agriculture.

Inestroza saw Griswold and LaSalle’s information session as a starting conversation for farmers in the Valley.

Posted by: Chelsea Shannon, The Sentinel, August 3, 2018

Picture: Chelsea Shannon – The Sentinel