Hamakua Springs volunteering hundreds of acres for testing

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Jun 13 2013 06:51:00 PM HST

It is the high-tech tool that's revolutionizing farming. UAVs, also known as drones, are coming to a farm near you.

HONOLULU -

Less than a few feet wide, launching from the grounds of Kualoa Ranch, they are the miniature flying machines using high-tech cameras to reveal everything from nutrition levels, to weed density, to disease in crops.

"It's real time, so if it starts to grow and spread, we'll be able to spot it quicker," said Richard Ha of Hamakua Springs.

He is volunteering his 600-acre farm on the Big Island for the next pilot project.

He said the Banana Bunchy Top Virus nearly wiped out Big Island crops last decade.

This time he's prepared, and sees Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as an invaluable tool for all farmers.

"We feel pretty confident we can control it," he said.

A team from Cal State Fullerton is deep in Kualoa Valley, developing a UAV program for farmers in California.

University of Hawaii staff is monitoring them closely and preparing to launch a program of their own as soon as this year.

"They're for public land, oceanography, coral reef and beach erosion," began UAV developer Ted Ralston.

He said training schools are already opening up in the islands and are ideal for businesses and farmers who want to steady crops to secure profitable deals.

Thanks in part to his forward-thinking plan; Ha's products have caught the attention of top local chefs making sure his fields of green stay that way.

"To have these kinds of wholesome products, with people that you trust, the farmers that you trust, is so important for us and for the customers," said restaurateur Alan Wong.

"We want to stay on the cutting edge of things. Whenever new technology pops up, we try to utilize it and be in front of the curve so we can position ourselves for the future," said Ha.
 

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