County savors Oregon's winning drone bid
“This latest development is huge news for the development of UAVs for precision agriculture,” he said. “Yamhill County is in an excellent position to benefit, as we’re a little ahead of the curve.”
By congressional mandate, the FAA is expected to integrate civilian use of UAVs into commercial airspace by 2015. The FAA chose the six out of 25 submissions from 24 states.
One of the favored six was submitted by a consortium of the University of Alaska, Oregon State University and Economic Development Central Oregon, known as EDCO. It calls for testing across a wide array of terrain in Alaska, Hawaii and Central, Western and Eastern Oregon, which the consortium has dubbed the Pan-Pacific Site.
Oregon’s portion of the Pan-Pacific test range includes Central Oregon’s Warm Springs Indian Reservation, an expanse of the Pacific Ocean of Tillamook and Eastern Oregon wheat and cattle land in the Pendleton area.
The testers will explore airspace use, safety, certification, technological development and environmental and human factors, among other issues. 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.
While only three parts of Oregon have been spefically identified, Lorton said testing may be extended to others. And he said Yamhill County’s crop diversity makes it a good subject, noting, “Everyone agrees that ag is the golden egg of UAVs.”
Lorton predicted, “This thing will spiral and grow over the next couple years. We’re ahead of the curve, and I hope there’s an opportunity to take advantage of that because there are so many economic opportunities.
“This industry is going to bring in hundreds of billions of dollars in the United States over the next decade. It’s going to be absolutely huge.”
In an attempt to position itself, the county hosted a forum last month on the use of drones in precision agriculture, and Lorton said it is still producing calls.
“These are people keen on getting started in Yamhill County, which is fantastic,” he said. “That’s what I was hoping would happen. Now, with this official designation of Oregon as one of the development spots, it’s going to be a lot easier for us to get certificates of authorization to fly UAVs and access grant money for research.”
He said, “We’ve just taken a huge step forward. This is significant.”
Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU, a land grant university that has achieved national prominence in agriculture and forestry, agreed.
“The FFA announcement really is a game-changer for research, education and economic development statewide,” he said. “It will definitely work to the advantage of farmers.”
Spinrad said the competition was tough. He said, “We hedged our bets, because we consciously teamed up with Alaska and Hawaii.”
“All three states bring different strengths to the game. We thought the three states combined made a powerful proposal, and obviously the FFA thought so, too.”
Spinrad credited U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden with assisting the university and its partners in making their case.
The state of Washington was invited to join, but chose to go it alone and ended up getting shut out. California misfired on a pair of proposals, leaving Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii to represent the West Coast.
Testing will also be conducted in Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. Locally, Spinrad is hoping to see flights underway by spring.