Clark State Community College has been granted a Certificate of Authorization (COA) for the operation of a SelectTech EH-4 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The COA granted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the Ohio/Indiana Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center (UASC) to conduct flight operations will support Clark State’s Precision Agriculture degree program.
The UAS will fly out of the Springfield Municipal Airport and must remain at or below 400-feet above ground level. The purpose of the flights will be for agricultural crop health assessment.“This is another positive step forward for the agricultural community in the State of Ohio as well as the UAS industry,” said Dick Honneywell, executive director for the Ohio UASC. “Clark State is arming our future agricultural workforce with the skills needed to use a range of tools, including UAS, to gather and process data into usable knowledge that ultimately will improve the farmer’s bottom-line.”
Clark State is the first and only Ohio educational institution to have an Ohio Board of Regents approved Precision Agriculture degree. “We are unique since we already have in existence an Agriculture degree, as well as a Geospatial Technology degree, and Precision Agriculture is a blend of both disciplines,” said Aimee Belanger-Haas, assistant dean of Business and Applied Technologies at Clark State. “Precision agriculture relies on geospatial technologies such as satellite or UAS imagery, GPS and geographic information systems software to make sense of the data. GIS software can be used to produce crop simulation models from baseline maps.”
Belanger-Haas explained that Precision Agriculture students are focusing on the interpretation of the data as opposed to just the collection of the data and flying of the UAS. “There will be many more jobs in data interpretation versus flying,” she said.
The UAS will fly over designated land owned by the City of Springfield, but leased to local farmers. It will collect individual images that students will then analyze as part of their coursework. “What the students will learn to do is ‘seam or stitch’ the individual images together to create an orthomosaic,” said Aimee Belanger-Haas. An orthomosaic is a geometrically corrected image. “This is the only way to make meaningful interpretations from the data, otherwise it’s individual pictures.”
A licensed pilot will fly the UAS – a SelectTech EH-4 quadcopter. Test flights are expected to begin in the spring. The UAS must be deemed airworthy to conduct flight operations and stay in compliance with all provisions and conditions in the Airworthiness Safety Release.The pilot in command must also conduct a pre-takeoff briefing prior to each launch and maintain direct, two-way communication with Air Traffic Control.
“We hope to fly several times at various stages of the next growing season,” said Belanger-Haas. “As the crops mature we hope to go out on a bi-weekly basis or based on what our ‘prescriptions’ for the farmers indicate.”
Clark State President Dr. Jo Alice Blondin said UAS applications presented an opportunity to the Clark State campus and region, particularly in the well-respected and longstanding Agriculture and Information Technology programs. “Clark State faculty and staff moved very quickly to develop a program, aligned with industry needs, that would utilize the strengths of our current programs and add the data analysis and UAS applications necessary to give students the skills required for precision agriculture,” said Blondin. “The COA is a huge benefit to our students and industry, because students can now analyze actual data from Ohio farms and have a ‘real world’ application to their program of study.”
The data collected from the UAS will be analyzed by students in the precision agriculture program and then shared with the farmers. “We hope to work in concert with them to measure how our suggestions are helping reduce cost and increase yield,” said Belanger-Haas.
The Precision Agriculture program currently has about 10 students enrolled, but Clark State expects that number to grow with the UAS approval.
“One in seven jobs in Ohio is in the agriculture industry, and Clark State has a long history of serving this industry,” Blondin said. “The applications for UAS and data analysis in agriculture will grow exponentially, and we are so excited to be on the ground floor of its development.”