Small Drones/UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Systems) are employed in agriculture for crop observation, crop monitoring, field analysis, and map generation through aerial surveys. With the software and 'mission planning tools' available on the market, there is a growing demand for knowledge and understanding of its usage and limitations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), skilled agricultural or "ag" pilots typically make from $60,000 to $100,000 a year, and those who own spraying businesses can earn much more.
We created a (COVID-friendly) online program consisting of fourteen units of study to help students gain the knowledge and skills relevant to Agricultural Landscaping with a specialization in drone and GIS Technology. Classes will cover landscape ecology, plants, soils, erosion prevention, GIS-drone mapping, and crop inspection technology, as well as landscape modeling and construction, with a particular emphasis on agricultural farm management. Practical, hands-on experience will be cultivated with commercial drone flight experience, ArcGIS data collection and mapping labs, remote sensing data interpretation, field crop inspection drones, and a capstone community needs project. For the automated and manual flight labs, we will provide a browser-based drone flight simulator and a physical drone for outdoor practice. Additionally, students will be able to utilize a commercial-grade inspection drone for capstone fieldwork, which is why we are applying for this grant.
The grant money will go towards purchasing a Phantom 4 Multispectral Drone--which can be used to map various vegetative indexes suitable in a specific crop or research scenario.
Students who complete this program will secure SUNY college credit (paid for through another funding source) in Geographic Information Systems. Students will be qualified to take an industry-standard GIS exam (offered by Esri), which will confirm the technician's ability to perform entry-level mapping, visualization, editing, and file geodatabase tasks, the Landscape Industry Certified Technician Exam (LICT), required for landscaping technician work and the FAA Commercial Drone Pilot Part 107 exam, which is necessary to fly drones commercially. Once finished, students will be prepared to work as drone & landscape technologists for agricultural operations.