Thursday, 11 February 2021

In The Field, number 05: Drone mapping

Recently we met Emma Ayliffe. She is the farmer who is using strategic tillage to enhance soil health, reduce evaporation, and remediate compaction on her farm. You can read that story here.

Emma and partner Craig have been making decisions around what they can do to improve the health of their soils. In their low rainfall environment ensuring that they have the soil structure to store moisture and support plant growth in the driest of times is critically important.

Everything they do is about trying new techniques and tools – based on research – in their environment so that they can ever improve, be better stewards for their land, and ensure they can feed and clothe the world well into the future. 

Today we’ll take a look at Emma’s use of advanced technology – specifically, drones.

The challenge

Actually, there are several challenges Emma has overcome. 

Weeds use moisture that might otherwise be used by crops, and they also harbour insects and disease, so it is important to minimise their occurrence. To maintain the best ground cover and to control weeds chemicals are needed for application. But chemicals cost money and reduce soil health. There is also the danger of chemical resistance if you use them too often on the same piece of land – the paddock.

The solution

A drone is sent up over paddocks to find green areas indicating that weeds have started to grow. This is a photo taken in the field showing Tristan Stevenson from StevTech launching the surveillance drone.

Sending a drone out with a camera attached that transmits a video of the fields lets Emma pinpoint the areas that need spraying. The resulting data maps the weed population and allows her to turn it into a green area map. 

The following photo shows the StevTech ute with the drone on the ground in front of it.

Chemical costs are kept down as they are spraying only a proportion of the total paddock. Emma can also often look at using higher value chemistries that may be cost prohibitive if she and partner Craig had to spray it all. 

The following two images shows weed cover of paddocks. In the first image, drone mapping produces a 95 percent saving of chemicals.

In the second image, drone mapping produces an 83 percent saving of chemicals.

Data from the mapping that the drone completes is then sent to a computer in the spray rig allowing the rig operator to target chemicals to conform precisely to hotspots where weeds are concentrated. In the following image, which shows what is displayed in the spray rig during application of chemicals, the olive green circles on the screen are the weeds being sprayed. 

“The great thing about this technology is that we can utilise the machinery and systems that we already have, so don’t have to spend a lot of money on new equipment,” said Emma in an email.

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