By Kevin Bonham
By Kevin Bonham and published January 8, 2014, in the Grand Forks Herald
Lake Region State College didn’t wait for Grand Forks to be named one of six national unmanned aircraft systems test sites last week before launching its own UAS curriculum.
Its program has been off the ground for several years and officials are confident it’ll keep soaring into the future.
The Precision Ag Center, for example, has its roots in 2006, when the school received the first of two Centers of Excellence grants from the state of North Dakota.
The grants have allowed the school to establish partnerships with several businesses to, among other benefits, develop UAS applications to help growers improve yields and reduce costs.
“Our Centers for Excellence grants were critical for getting us up and running,” said Doug Darling, president of Lake Region State College.
One application developed through the program provides high-definition, close-up photographs to be taken from cameras mounted on small remotely piloted aircraft, which allows producers to monitor fields for variable-grade fertilizer application. It pinpoints areas where more or less fertilizer is needed to receive maximum returns.
Results from an 80-acre test plot showed yields and quality were the same or better than without the satellite imagery, while input costs decreased 10 to 20 percent, according to Darling.
“It’s going to be an invaluable tool not just for producers, but for crop scouts,” he said.
Another application uses heat sensors to monitor temperature and other health conditions of livestock in feedlots or commercial hog barns.
The precision ag center also is developing a prototype for injecting liquefied hog slurry, or manure, into portions of a field where fertilizer is needed, rather than spreading it in a broadcast fashion over the entire field.
“These are just scratching the surface for production agriculture in terms of time and efficiency, as well as for keeping the producer safe,” Darling said.
In the fall of 2012, the school also received a $3 million federal Department of Labor grant that ultimately allowed the precision ag center to consolidate its programs, which had been spread out over the campus, into the former Twete Implement building north of Devils Lake.
Lake Region also is working with the University of North Dakota to incorporate UAS applications into its peace officer training and law enforcement program, which includes an associate degree in applied science in law enforcement.
Darling said the UAS component is an overview, or entry-level course, to give new police officers a basic understanding of drones and how they can be used in law enforcement.
“From what we’ve seen, it’s going to be a vital tool in law enforcement,” Darling said.
The school also is working with UND on a UAS training program for veteran police officers.