Agricultural Drone Operations In New Zealand

Drone use in farming and agriculture

Precision agriculture is a term that describes a farming management concept which uses drones for agriculture to measure, observe, and respond to variability found in crops.

Drones in action for agricultural purposes

From automated planting to crop management with real-time monitoring, and survey purposes, drones have a vital role to play in the future of farming.

The use of unmanned aerial drones for agriculture is in its infancy in New Zealand, but Japan has been using them for years to help rice growers.

Drones in agriculture are a big boon to farmers. They carry the potential of completely transforming and revolutionizing the farming and agriculture industry.

Agricultural drones are high-tech systems that can do things a farmer can’t: soil health scans, monitoring crop health, applying fertilizers and watering the fields, even tracking weather and estimating yields, and then collecting the data and analyzing it for prompt action.

In short, drones can mechanize every step of farming, eliminating the costs of human errors and enabling farmers to react quickly to threats (such as drought conditions and pests), helping them maximize income and returns on investment in the end.

Applications for ag drones in New Zealand

  • Farming – weed management of gorse, blackberry and noxious weeds
  • Crop surveying – monitoring and measuring plant health
  • Animal surveying – counting numbers or for grass management
  • Weed management in hard to get places such as river banks and other hard to reach places

Some of the top rated drones in 2017 use for agricultural/farming purposes are:

  • Honeycorp AgDrone: The drone has a wing that is composed of Kevlar fiber composite, a material that cannot be cracked like carbon fiber, or which quickly fall to pieces like foam can. It therefore makes for a very durable, versatile, and powerful selection for drones in agriculture.
  • DJI Matrice 100: It has dual battery components that allow for extended flight time of up to 40 minutes, making it a good choice for farmers and agriculturists.
  • DJI T600 Inspire 1: This drone is suitable for agricultural use and has a 4K video recording capability, separate flight and camera control, with a carbon fiber frame.
  • Yamaha has been operating remotely piloted helicopters for commercial purposes since 1991 and has amassed well over 2 million total flight hours. In Japan alone, there are over 2,500 Yamaha remotely piloted helicopters utilized in agricultural applications, carrying out pest control in 35% of Japan’s rice fields. Furthermore, remotely piloted helicopters are used in applications other than agriculture, such as academic research, disaster prevention, observation and survey work.

Yamaha Ag Drone Spray

The AgDrone is probably the “cream of the crop” as far as this category is concerned, but the Inspire is a great way to test the waters that lie just above the Phantom line of DJI.

The other big player in New Zealand is dronemate with their special NDVI sensor which works with DJI drones. The sensors work on monitors reflected Near Infra Red (NIR) light.  Healthy plants absorb visible light and reflect NIR; less healthy ones reflect more visible light and absorb more NIR.  Combined into a “plant health index” called NDVI (Normalised Difference Vegetation Index), the sensor shows you the good, the bad and the ugly on your farm.

A 20-minute survey and 2 minutes on the laptop in the field can show you plant health over a 20 hectare field.  Over or under fertilizing?  Over or under irrigating?  Are there any diseases creeping across the crop?  These surveys are the key to real time decision making and saving you money.

The drone’s standard camera also works on the survey, creating data that can be used to make 2D and 3D precision maps, measure plant height, crop counts and many other things besides.  

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report pegs the agriculture drone market to be worth $32.4 billion, second to infrastructure.

Agricultural efficiency is poised to take a big leap with drone technology now that CAA is streamlining regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Statistics and recent reports suggest that PwC isn’t the only one expecting drones to revolutionize agriculture.

Goldman Sachs predicts the agriculture sector to be the largest user of drones in the U.S. and the second largest in the world in the next five years.

Research company Markets and Markets estimates the agricultural drone market to grow at a compounded average rate of 30% through 2022.

Let’s take a look at 3 big ways that drones will change the future of farming.

1) Monitor Health of Crops

The affordability of a small agriculture UAV armed with a high-tech camera could drastically change how crop monitoring is done in the future. Determining the growth rate and progress of crops would be faster and easier than ever. Infrared sensors could located damaged or diseased crops in a field.

2) Crop Dusting

Japan has been spraying their crops with unmanned vehicles for over a decade. Farmers can replace the costs of fuel, aircraft, and human pilots by investing in drones which can spray pesticides or fertilizer quickly and at a low cost.

3) Precision Farming

Data from UAV imagery, can be used by farmers to identify segments of farms which are receiving too little or too much water. A once tedious, time consuming and unrealistic monitoring process on the ground, can now be done in the air. With drones able to survey a field in detail, diseased or nutrient short crops can be easily identified then treated to prevent the spread of disease or increase nutrient uptake thought supplementary fertiliser spot spraying.

Conclusion

Agribusiness means huge dollars. Even smaller changes to a farmers yield, output, and quality can equate to millions of dollars of additional profit. With a birds-eye view (or drones eye in this case) of their fields, farmers can massively  increase their efficiency. And when UAV technology and farming research converge, agriculture drones could bring much improved efficiencies in food production around the world.

While film-making and package delivery could certainly benefit from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the commercial industry that will likely grow the fastest and have the farthest reaching impact on our daily life is agriculture.

It’s been predicted that in the near future, up to 80% of all drones will be used on farms. One of the major reasons for this is that farming using drone operations can take place over private property, where safety concerns are reduced due to limited population.

What you need to operate an agricultural drone business

You will need to complete a chemical handling course and a 141 certified organisation run 102 course like ours.

The 102 RPAS training is a two day intensive course that covers all legal and practical aspects of drone operation. The chemical handling part of the course can be conducted separately by our AG training instructor.

Check out our RPAS course here

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