Farming In Focus - Autumn 2023



Drone Technology in Agriculture

Technology is certainly changing rapidly particularly in agriculture. As producers around the world battle with cost of production issues, environmental changes, commodity price fluctuations, land values and many other factors including skilled labour shortages, the challenges facing our food and fibre producers are enormous.

F rom our perspective in the world of agronomy, the last five years have been extremely challenging climatically with one of the worst prolonged droughts in memory, to three years of abundant rainfall finishing in devastating floods for some. Throw into the mix in 2022, the doubling of cropping inputs and increase in value in grains, oilseeds, fibre, and red meat, has placed many producers to cost operating levels never seen before. The risks have suddenly become extremely high, and the rewards (if realised) could also be significant. In the last three years, we have been doing a significant amount of work using drone technology in many applications of agriculture including broadacre cropping, pasture and high intensity irrigation programs. The more we are exposed to drone technology the more value we can see now and more importantly into the future. The applications are endless and as technology develops, the more effective and user friendly, they are going to be. Some of the applications currently in use on a commercial basis over the past three years, include: Weed Mapping • Detecting individual weeds by way of leaf or flower structure in a similar crop or pasture. • Detecting types, populations, and locations in winter crops. different weed

may create more efficiency and accuracy of reporting and/or application. We can already see significant cost savings in weed control in comparison to traditional methods and although the application may not yet be perfect, the technology and application are moving ahead at rapid speed. In the future, we can see limitless applications for drones and other imagery sources, such as: • Measuring dry matter production. • Use in herbicide resistant management by plant identification and weed mapping. • Nutrition monitoring. • Pest and weed identification. • Control measurement. • Disease monitoring - both through physical presence and heat measurement (catching the disease before it expresses out in the leaf). • Large scale weed mapping in rugged terrain. • Stock monitoring. • Water monitoring. • pot spraying - plant specific control. • Fully automated monitoring and/or application. Like any technology application this space is developing rapidly and the benefits to the agricultural industry could be significant. It’s a matter now of demonstrating that commercial value to all parties.

Plant Population Monitoring and Mapping • A specific advantage for those crops that rely heavily on specific plant populations to maximise production. Particularly in irrigated crops such as cotton and sweet corn or even canola in a broadacre situation. The mapping can be used for replanting scenarios with coverage maps generated and variable seeded if plant populations need elevating. Fallow Weed Management • Including broadacre spraying with drones (when ground or aerial application were not an option) or mapping weed populations and locations to feed into a compatible boom spray for spot spraying purposes. Spot Spraying Specific Weeds • Taking data from a weed scanning application and loading a coverage map into the drone for targeted weed control. Broadacre Spraying • In terrain not suitable for ground or aerial application, targeting hard to kill noxious weeds such as St. John’s Wort. Insect Detection As mentioned previously, the opportunities for the use of drone technology into the future are endless and as technology improves so does the functionality and practicality of the technology. With skills and labour shortages more evident than ever in agriculture, technology such as the use of drones or satellite imagery


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