High-flying Technology Maps Adams County Farms

In 2017, Adams County Senior Planner Mark Clowney read about how a drone was being used in the planning office in an Ohio county.

Clowney thought a drone might help with the mission of the Adams County Office of Planning and Development. He ran the idea past his supervisor, who approved it.

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“The GIS mapping we do here is so innovative in comparison to other counties. We’re always looking for the next tool to help us. The drone saves time and provides better data.” said Clowney.

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The $2000 DJI Phantom 4 Advanced Pro drone arrived in December of 2017 and is now fully operational.

The drone is guided by a remote controller and its camera is directed with an iPad.

“It’s pretty recent that counties are using drones. Their use at the county level is more evident with emergency services and police forces,” said Clowney.

One of Clowney’s major jobs is to determine which farms should be protected under state and county agricultural land preservation programs. And each of these protected areas needs to be re-mapped every two years.

Each year, more farm owners apply for protection than money is available. “When it comes time to make the decision, the latest aerial photos might be two or three years old. I can take the drone to the farm, pop it in the sky, and take it to the corners of the property, getting nice shots of the property as it stands. We’ll drive the perimeter, meet with the landowner and see what the farm looks like at the time we preserve it,” said Clowney.

When Clowney flies he takes one or more co-workers with him to help visualize the positions and take the photos and videos.

The drone is also being used in collaboration with the Adams County Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville to study the county’s vast fruit economy. Clowney recently programmed the drone to fly a computer-driven pattern over a peach orchard in Biglerville to provide fine-grain elevation contour lines for the orchard. The drone made an aerial “ortho-mosaic” of the orchard, said Clowney.

Clowney said the county is now making an in-depth study of its equine industry. Clowney said the Hanover Shoe Farms in Union Township is “a major player in the world. It has a pretty significant impact.”

Clowney, who grew up on a dairy farm in the Adams County, said his degrees in Applied Geography and Public Administration made a “perfect match” for his work at the Ag Center. Clowney said he was hired for his mapping expertise. “It worked,” he said.

Clowney said it took a year to get the drone up and running. There was a lot of software to learn and he had to pass his FAA pilot license.

The Office of Planning and Development has four divisions, each of which can make use of the drone’s photos. The offices focus on comprehensive county planning, mapping, keeping the county rural, and conservation.

In addition to its duties mapping farmland, Clowney said there are lots of options for using the drone from “a maintenance point of view. We recently used it to determine if the drain gutters at our office in the Agricultural-and-Natural-Resource-Center building needed to be cleaned out, he said.

Charles (Chuck) Stangor is Gettysburg Connection's Owner, Publisher, and Editor in Chief. I would like to hear from you. Please contact me at cstangor@gettysburgconnection.org.