By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

County to come under FAA drone umbrella

Submitted photo
Drones could have all sorts of uses in agriculture, companies say.
Submitted photo
Drones could have all sorts of uses in agriculture, companies say.

In January, the FAA approved six testing applications, including one submitted by the University of Alaska, Oregon State University and Economic Development Central Oregon, known as EDCO. The latter calls for testing across wide terraina in Alaska, Hawaii and Central, Western and Eastern Oregon, which the consortium has dubbed the Pan-Pacific Site.

The Oregon portion initially included Central Oregon’s Warm Springs Indian Reservation, an expanse of the Pacific Ocean off Tillamook and Umatilla County wheat and cattle land on the state’s dry east side.

Commissioner Allen Springer said the county had appealed to Near Space, a contractor on the project, for inclusion of Yamhill County crop and vineyard land as well.

He said Near Space was amenable, because doing so would enhance testing of agricultural applications, including potential wine industry applications. And with the signing of the agreement, the county is officially included, he said.

Shortly after the FFA announcement, Springer and County Economic Development Director Jeff Lorton visited Near Space, which will be overseeing testing out of Tillamook. He said they wanted to see if Near Space was willing to consider stretching the test site east to cover the heart of Oregon wine country, and it was.

The FAA plans to engage in extensive testing of potential civillian uses of unmanned vehicles, known as UAVs or drones, with an eye to developing a workable regulatory system.

The big draw for the Pan-Pacific site was its range of terrain and weather — from tropic to arctic, sea level to mountaintop, volcanic to glacial, jungle to desert, burning to freezing, wetland to desert and tilled to barren. And adding Yamhill County farmland serves to enhance that variety.

Lorton and the commissioners think the county is ideally suited to capitalize on the emerging drone industry, given its rich agricultural base. Ideally, they would like to see the county become a hub for manufacture and development as well as use.

Thursday’s agreement creates new opportunities and possibilities for farmers, students, manufacturers, software companies, industry leaders and entrepreneurs to be exposed to our area and anchor themselves in our region, Springer said. “This give us the opportunity to take full advantage of what’s available today, and for things in the future, opportunities we aren’t even aware of yet.”

Potentially, he said, welcoming precision agriculture to the county has benefits such as marketing vacancies at McMinnville’s airport to those in industry. “It has the potential to be an economic development opportunity on several levels,” he said.

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