Source: The Orgeonian

Some industry leaders think Oregon is the perfect spot for a drone revolution.

Jeff Lorton, head of the Precision Farming Expo in Salem, for example, will happily talk for hours about the future of commercial farming - and where it meets technology.

Lorton first became an evangelist as development director for Yamhill County. He saw a video of a Yamaha RMax helicopter spraying fields in Japan, and decided to throw his efforts behind bringing something similar to the United States.

"In the next 20 to 30 years, we're going to need to double our food output and we're going to need to do it with less resource use and a much higher level of sustainability and traceability," he said.

The RMax is one of the most advanced unmanned aircraft systems in production. It was invented with investment from the Japanese government to be a crop duster, helping rice farmers who needed a less labor-intensive way to spray their paddies.

Lorton is working with farming and technology leaders to land that kind of innovation in Oregon.

Precision agriculture is the movement to take advantage of technology to decrease the use of pesticides, increase yields, squelch diseased crops faster and make smarter management decisions overall.

Oregon is primed to be a precision agriculture leader, Lorton thinks, since farmers in the state grow 240 specialty crops - one of the most diverse lists of any state. Many small crops in the state rather than a few dominant ones, makes for a different kind of commercial agriculture.

"We're like a laboratory for the whole planet's crops," Lorton said. "We grow crops here people grow in Turkey, all over the world."

He is trying to entice tech companies to build the software to move farmers from collecting data into utilizing it in real time, while their boots are still in the soil they're evaluating.

Precision agriculture includes things like self-guided tractors and spray nozzles that change their output based on environmental factors. But drones are one of the sexier aspects of it.

Tillamook, Pendleton and the Warm Springs Reservation are home to three three federal testing grounds for drones, joining only seven other states that have similar sites. And Insitu Inc., a Boeing subsidiary that makes drones, is based just across the Columbia River Gorge in Bingen, Washington.

Politicians and industry experts at the Oregon Leadership Summit in January held a breakout session on ways to help Oregon become a national leader in the manufacture and testing of drones.

It can't come soon enough for Lorton.

"We have this incredible tech sector, the Silicon Forest, and what we need is the 'Silicon Farm,'" Lorton said.