12 May 2023

Farming from the Skies

How unmanned aircraft is changing Hawaiʻi’s agriculture

Farming from the Skies

by Shannon Takahashi

You might associate drones with the inescapable sound of buzzing you hear when you’re relaxing at the beach or hiking up Koko Crater, but soon, you might also begin hearing the hum of drones over Hawaiʻi’s farmlands. 

Last month, CTAHR Extension agents held a seminar at the Urban Garden Center discussing the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, in agriculture as part of UGCʻs “Extension: Ground Support” series. 

Hawaiʻi farmers and landscapers can greatly benefit from the use of UAS to survey crops and apply growth regulators or insecticides for hard to access crops such as palms, coconuts, and monkeypod trees. Technology use in Hawaiʻi agriculture is considered low, with only 182 drones currently in use in the stateʻs agriculture and landscape industries. However, the USDA expects to see these numbers rise in the coming years, with over 870 UAS anticipated for use in the future. 

Looking to help Hawaiʻi reach its goal of increasing UAS use, Dan Jenkins of the Dept. of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, along with Joe Derank and Alberto Ricordi of the Dept. of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences held presentations and demonstrations to discuss the applicability of drones in agriculture. 

Attendees of the seminar, including members from the USDA, Kamehameha schools, and Leilehua High School, learned about drone piloting license procedures and laws surrounding the registration of drones in Hawaiʻi, and watched a UAS in action as it applied spot spray treatments using a pre-programmed flight plan. Participants then had the opportunity to create their own flight plans and pilot drones to administer water on demonstration targets in the field. 

“It was a great overview of the laws behind UAS use, as well as the application in agriculture systems,” says Alberto. “It was so great to see the youngest attendee manning the UAS, and it will definitely be the future in agriculture and landscape industries.”

Joe’s presentation about how to obtain a drone and Dan’s UAS demonstration can be viewed here. For more information about technology use in Hawaiʻi agriculture, check out this report by the USDA.

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