UF/IFAS hosted the first Tri-County Agricultural Area 4-H Drone Camp during the Summer of 2021. The camp was graciously sponsored by the Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District and so the host location was the UF/IFAS Putnam County Extension Office. Eligible participants had to be at least 16 to be eligible to take their FAA Airman Knowledge Exam to get their Part 107 Certification that enables them to fly drones for commercial purposes. However, this was for 4-Her’s only, so only youth (18 years old or younger) could participate. Despite the very narrow age range, we had a total of eight participants – three from Flagler County (Jared Foley, Skyler Wahl, and John Williford) and five from Putnam County (Paige Griner, Mark Lewandowski, Garrett Seyler, Brandon Stouffer, and Samuel Weiner). The leadership was a collaborative team effort by 10 UF/IFAS faculty that consisted of certified drone instructors, commercial Agriculture Agents, 4-H Agents, Family and Consumer Science Agents and one intern.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are becoming an integral part of commercial agriculture, particularly among vegetable cropping systems. They are used to monitor the health of the crops as the latest technology is capable of detecting early onset of disease, nutritional deficiencies, and crop maturity. Some are even equipped with spraying capabilities to apply pesticides safely. Drones are also becoming integrated into real estate sales, bridge and high-rise building inspections, mosquito control, and search and rescue efforts. The younger “video-game” generation has been practicing their hand-eye coordination since they were born and they are very proficient and comfortable flying drones. The daily mechanics of the camp included hands-on drone operation exercises with predetermined obstacle courses (watch a 30 sec video here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTspsO4blDg), and plenty of classroom presentations on flight patterns, understanding weather influences, flight regulations, career opportunities, and learning to communicate with airports using the aeronautical alphabet. The ultimate goal was to equip youth to pass their Part 107 certification exam so they could fly drones legally for professional purposes.
All the participants successfully passed their exams and they are all available for commercial hire to conduct these activities. So if you are looking for a young certified drone operator to assist in your commercial operations, please reach out to Wendy Mussoline (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she could pass your inquiries along. Most of students do not have specialized drones equipped for advanced applications, but they do have the required training.
Brandon Stouffer, camp participant, has maintained his 4-H involvement as a volunteer and now he is the lead drone operator for a research trial at Tater Farms sod operation in Hastings. Different rates of compost have been applied to 11 one-acre plots and drone imagery is an important facet of the project to determine if observable differences are present. The drone pictures will be taken at the same time as the monthly soil and tissue samples to correlate nutrient concentrations and biomass yield on the different plots. Dr. Stacy Strickland (shown in photo below with Brandon) has become a reliable mentor for Brandon as he learns to navigate drone applications in the professional world and stitch the images together using advanced software technology.