Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Seen as Economic Boon for Kansas

Kansas Viewpoint

Precision agriculture seen as segment most likely to embrace technology of unmanned flight

Published on: March 13, 2013

There’s an amazing report out that shows Kansas poised to be one of the top states in the country to benefit economically from the emerging Unmanned Aerial Vehicles industry. The study was done by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and looked specifically at the economic impact expected when U.S. UAVs are integrated into U.S. airspace beginning in 2015.

I wasn’t surprised to see Kansas among the leaders in research into the technology of this industry because I have long been aware of the cutting edge work being done at the Kansas State University campus in Salina. But I was astonished to see the size of the predicted numbers of jobs – almost 4,000 between 2015 and 2025 – and the projected economic impact of $2.4 billion. Yep, that’s billion with a “b.”

The report, which was called to my attention by the office of Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, expects Kansas to be a winner in the competition for jobs and manufacturing plants in this emerging industry for several reasons. One is the state’s existing infrastructure in all things airplane, including airport support. Another is that the big growth in the industry is expected to be in precision agriculture.

Kansas State University researchers are already using unmanned aircraft to do remote sensing of crops and in fact, K-State Salina just got the first round of FAA certifications. K-State agronomy professor Kevin Price told me that a UAV can collect data in about 18 minutes that it would all day to collect on a tractor and would be almost impossible to collect by walking the field – which is the most common way of getting sensor data now.

It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture or writing about agriculture already with the rapid advances in technology and the challenge to feed an exploding world population.

This is just one more round of technology that makes the future pretty exciting. You can read more about research at K-State in the March Kansas Farmer on Page 21. And watch for more on the economic report in your April magazine.