The future of farming is flying up into the skies
IT'S FARMING, but not as we know it.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones represent the future for agriculture and even with big advances in recent times, the sky really is the limit for their uses.
Farmers in Kalbar were recently given a sneak peek into the progress of trials using UAVs.
The focus was on the use of UAVs in agriculture, particularly in the vegetable and berry crop industry.
Research results from the Australian Controlled Traffic Farming (ACTFA)/Landcare Eye in the Sky project were presented at a field day in Kalbar.
ACTFA shared the results with farmers of an 18-month research project exploring how UAVs can help farmers identify and manage stresses, weeds, pests and diseases.
Controlled Traffic Farming Solutions chief executive Don Yule and UAV experts from Scout Aerial and Aerobugs presented research results.
"CTF Solutions through Australian Controlled Traffic Farming Association got some funding from the Federal Government for two projects that we linked together," Mr Yule said.
"One of the projects was so we could encourage and support the adoption of controlled traffic farming. The other part was the new technology with the UAVs.
"The two projects run parallel because the CTF supports the technology. One of the steps in controlled traffic farming is once you've got all the mechanics set up on farm, then continuous improvement is the next goal.
"And you can't improve unless you measure to manage. We're dealing with management and the farmers and these guys are coming up with the new technology for the measurement.
"We set out to have three groups - one at Millmerran, one near Warwick and this one here."
The trial started in Kalbar about 18 months ago and one of the first glitches to sort out was getting data to the farmer in a form that was useful and timely.
"These guys are planting every second day so they need imagery virtually every day," he said.
"These UAVs have the capacity for low cost to get up there and do that with a number of growers."
Satellites are more useful for farming areas about 10,000 hectares and an aeroplane is the same, whereas UAVs are more suitable to the horticultural product.
"The technology is out there, it's only going to get better and cheaper. In the 18 months of the project, the progress has been astronomical," Mr Yule said.
Nathan Roy has been conducting a project in developing UAVs designed to spread beneficial insects.
Mr Roy, the owner/director of Aerobugs, has been farming strawberries for more than 20 years and saw a need for UAV use in agriculture.
"We work with pest scouts. They send us an email with the GPS coordinates and then we send the craft out," Mr Roy said.
"It's especially good for strawberries where you can't get on to the field in a tractor until six weeks after planting.
"The latest model, the Foxstep, weighs 27.5 kilos and stays in the air for 20 minutes before it has to come down to be refilled with the bug-killer and sent back up. We can control the dispense rate remotely."