Class in Kane County focuses on agricultural use of drones

To some people, drones are a toy, but on Monday in St. Charles, youngsters learned that the flying objects might just help feed the world.

A 4-H Special Interest group met from 2 to 4 pm Monday at the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles for a 4-H Quads Away Drone Curriculum class in which Illinois 4-H Youth Development STEM Specialist Keith Jacobs took about a dozen youngsters through the paces regarding drones and all the applications that are possible with them.

Drones are far more than kids’ toys or devices adults use to take unique pictures, said 4-H Youth Development Educator Donna Nuger.

“There are careers in drones and we also want our youth to have new technology in their hands and not just a toy to play with, but rather to think about how these are really tools people can use in the future,” Nuger said. “Some of the measurements we use in agriculture began with our Defense Department and that’s where a lot of the technology began its development. Agriculture has always been an early adopter of new technology because we’re trying to feed millions of people on increasingly smaller portions of land.”

Drones, Nuger added, “are making it possible to be more environmentally responsible in the way we do that.”

“They help us pinpoint where exactly a disease problem might be or where animals might be getting out of a pen,” she said. “We’ve done a number of activities that people take for granted and people never ask – how do they accomplish this? Technology is how it’s happening, and drones are just one of those forms of technology.”

Nuger said during previous classes, kids have “never given a thought to agricultural drone applications” and think more about taking pictures or military applications.

“There definitely is a disconnect with kids and how these devices can be used and some of them look at these as toys. We take that fun interest and students realize what the benefits of some of that (using drones) could be,” she said.

Jacobs led the session Monday and said that the instruction being offered to kids “goes well beyond what people consider the basic use of drones.”

“For 4-H that use is agriculture and precision agriculture and identifying places on farms and fields that see different spectrums of light using … cameras that allow us to see different plant health,” Jacobs said. “We are able to see what light is being reflected back from the sun.”

Jacobs said the use of drones by farmers today “is still relatively rare, but that there are a lot companies that are coming out” that will be introducing products.

“The technology is still kind of new in a lot of people’s eyes and many haven’t made the transition yet fully from seeing drones as a recreational type of tool to something that is really used for anything that relates to visual stuff,” he said . “With agriculture, for instance, you won’t have to go and spray your entire field that’s affected by whatever it is. You can see that far more effectively with a drone.”

Current 4-H members including Emily Reppy, 19, from Yorkville, attended Monday’s session and said she has been to other drone instruction classes.

“I’m a 4-H member and a science ambassador in Kane and Kendall County,” Reppy said. “I’ve taught one camp before and I’m here for the culminating event today. For me, I didn’t know how to pilot drones and it’s been interesting to see the kids fly them through different obstacles. You can use these devices for a lot more things.”

Students like George Kapasouris, 12, of Glen Ellyn, said he was interested in drones and currently owns one himself.

“I came because I was interested in drones and wanted to learn more about them,” he said. “The propellers on my drone are mixed up – they’re not in the proper place so mine isn’t working right now. I got interested in them because it’s something you can do outside and I think learning about how they can be used in farming will be interesting.”

Conrad Bauer, 13, of Campton Hills, said he also owns a drone and that his interest started “when I heard about the drone club in my middle school.”

“I heard about it (the club) and wanted to do it and I bought a drone and did that for a while,” he said. “Last Christmas, I go this expensive drone and I think learning about agricultural uses might be interesting. Looking ahead, I think I might use drones to start a roof inspection business.”

David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.