Saturday, 21 December 2013

Day 27 - To Boldly Go!

Following our visit to Mike Solari's, Steve and I headed on to a very last minute appointment having seen an article in a farming magazine all about the use of drones in Agriculture.  Neil and his son Mark have been developing remote control drones (helicopters) to help with livestock observations and monitoring on their 446 Ha family farm. When some technical issues have been ironed out this technology is going to be a game changer for livestock and arable farmers, of that I am sure.  So what are the boys up to?

The drone, which can currently fly for 22 minutes has the ability to follow a flight path or as Mark, who’s 13 – (the pilot), calls it ‘the mission’.  Following GPS coordinates the drone can fly out to inspect water troughs to look for leaks and record video footage of any that are currently not working or leaking.  The drone is also able to record its flight paths through a Go-Pro camera which can record what it sees.  This means that video footage of the sheep paddocks can be viewed to count sheep or check for cast sheep or those having difficulty lambing.  The drone flies high enough to not disturb the livestock, which is a massive benefit.  The drone can check the water troughs around the farm in 20 minutes, a task that tasks 2 hours on a quad bike.  Imagine the savings in fuel and labour, all lowering the carbon footprint of the farm.  If an issue is identified then direct action can be taken to go straight to the problem immediately.
The camera is able to take still images of the paddock and using software developed for counting penguins in Antarctica sheep numbers, including differentiation between ewes and lambs, can be recorded. 
Mark and Neil are very confident about the wide range of uses for the equipment.  In an arable situation it could easily be used to monitor leaf area index or crop emergence at the far end of the field, saving time by not having to walk everywhere.  Imagine crop walking 440ha in and hour or so and having recorded footage to monitor immediately or later in the season.  It could be used to check crop emergence or to identify weeds around the paddock.  Leaf area index maps could easily be constructed with farm software to create variable rate fertiliser plans.  Imagine using the drone to round up the cows before milking so they are ready and waiting for you at the cow shed when you turn up having spent an extra half and hour in bed!
From a farm safety angle it could be deployed to round up deer or herd sheep in form the steepest farmland avoiding the need to take a quad bike up onto difficult terrain. The possibilities are endless and it was great to hear the passion and vision that Neil has for the project and it will be very interesting to see what the project evolves into. 

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