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Virginia Tech researching drone technology for farmers

Researchers say drones can save farmers time, attract more young farmers

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BLACKSBURG, Va. – Dan Swafford is spending his day exploring the future of farming. He and his team, with the help of Virginia Tech, are doing research on the possible benefits of drone technology on local farms. 

"I look at it as a 'go check on' tool. Instead of having to walk out and check on the sheep or drive out and check on the cows, they can use the drone to do it for them," said Dan, project associate for the Virginia Cooperative Extension. 

The goal of the agriculture drone is to make it easier for farmers to keep track of their animals and to attract more young farmers to the industry.

"As our farmers get older, we're going to have to have somebody to take their place. As we get fewer farmers, we're still going to have to have people out there producing food," he said.

On good flying days, he and his team take to the skies to see how sheep react to a high-flying visitor in the fields. Dan hopes to prove that farm animals won't fear the new technology, an incentive for farmers to invest. 

"Some breeds, the first day we fly above them, they're not scared of it at all. You can come down within 15 feet of them. Some breeds, it takes three or four weeks for them to get used to the drone flying over them," he said.

Dan is in the process of showing the drones to local student 4-H Club members. The plan is to apply for grants to put drones in the hands of those local young farmers. And sometime, in the near future, drones could be seen flying through the air at farms across the region.