Corteva Agriscience donates $35,000 worth of retired drones to UT Martin

Corteva Agriscience, of Union City, donated 35 retired drones, valued at approximately $35,000, to the University of Tennessee at Martin to supplement three new courses premiering fall 2021 that will teach students the fundamentals of unmanned aerial systems and its emerging importance in the field of agriculture and natural resources management.

Dr. Philip Smartt, professor of natural resources management and certified unmanned aerial systems pilot, will instruct the new courses and is excited to teach students how to utilize the drones in a protected, hands-on environment. Smartt will teach students the fundamentals and operations of flying drones, how to maintain and repair the equipment, as well as prepare them for the FAA pilot certification exam.

“This is a real significant gift to be able to have drones we can utilize,” said Smartt. “We are really as a society just starting to use this technology. There are a lot of opportunities in ag and natural resources, and especially in the field of agriculture; the opportunities are incredible. I think there is going to be a lot of demand for (drone technology) in the future.”

Smartt fully expects drones and unmanned aerial systems to become important aspects of agriculture to benefit the environment and economy. Of their many uses, the drones will primarily be used on the UT Martin Agriculture, Geosciences, and Natural Resources Teaching Complex to take photos of the fields in order to analyze and improve crop production.

“We talk a lot about giving our students tools for their toolbox so that when they go out, they’re going to be decision-makers, they’re going to be managers. We’re wanting them to be able to go into the workforce and be leaders, so this is something that they are going to need to know,” said Smartt. “What the drone does for us, it helps us to have what is called actionable data. It allows us to have information that we can make decisions with that is cheaper and quicker.”

The fleet of drones is comprised of fully functional drones, as well as inoperable units that can be used for spare parts to repair the working drones.

“In keeping with the spirit of UT Martin, we’re all about experiential learning, and without this donation, we couldn’t afford to buy units in order to let the class tinker with (the drones),” said Dr. Sandy Mehlhorn, professor of agricultural engineering. “This donation is huge, and we appreciate it very much.”

The donation was spearheaded by Corteva Agriscience employee and UT Martin alumnus Harlin Wilkin who graduated from the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences in 2011.

For more information about the drone donation, contact Smartt at psmartt@utm.edu.

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