US Senator Mark Warner visited Ferrum College for an innovative demonstration on how drone technology can serve the agricultural industry of Southern Virginia.

“I was asked to try to think of Virginia’s economy and look ahead to some of the areas for growth, and if I was going to start all over again, the area I would go into would be unmanned systems,” explained Sen.  Warner, who originally rose as a leader in the field of cellular communications at Nextel.  

IALR Laboratory and Research Assistant Samantha Smith-Herndon champions the development of drone technology to support regional agriculture.  By developing farm specific reports using AgBot, a drone with thermal and multispectral cameras, her program aims to help farmers maximize profits by increasing overall crop health and yields, while minimizing costly inputs.  

John Ayers, a Patrick County grape farmer, has allowed Smith-Herndon to map and monitor poorly growing grape vines in a five-acre field on his vineyard.  The drone sensors are so sophisticated that it could inspect each leaf upon individual vines from the air, and they were eventually determined to be suffering from a virus.  Ayers says the drone was able to single out about 500 vines that were showing signs of stress beyond repair.  

“With their sophisticated analysis, they can also take it to the field and really benefit the agricultural producer,” Ayers said, referring to the merger of technologies like image-mapping from the drone relaying problem areas directly to fertilizer dispensers as they work around the field.

Technology will play a key role in the future of agriculture, and Samantha Smith-Herndon is ensuring the agricultural community in Southern Virginia will be at the forefront of these innovations.  Field demonstrations provide federal  legislators a perspective on how this technology can immediately impact the economic vitality of Virginia farms.  

Additional photos can be found by clicking here.

“The Future of Farming event was a great success. Ferrum College and IALR are doing impressive work in the field of precision agriculture.” - Senator Mark Warner