Grains Research and Development

Date: 10.02.2015

Initial findings from launching an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) business in agriculture

Author: Martin Peters

Martin Peters,

FarmingIT.

Keywords: unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV, drones, NDVI images.

Take home messages

  • Our business has always been about supplying the latest technology to farmers and growers, in an easy to handle, appropriate format. 
  • We look for new technologies that we feel will give the grower a genuine advantage in management of their crop, and then set about delivering it in a way that will make it easy to use.

Introduction

Many new technologies are presented at conferences every year.  Most are fantastic innovations, but practical limitations of cost, speed and interpretation make many of them doomed to failure before they really get started.  

The classic example with soil sensors has to be the EM38.  We are constantly seeing new sensors, capable of directly measuring a whole host of soil chemical and physical properties, but the sensor of choice is still predominantly the EM38.  Why?  Because it is rapid, reliable and effective; with the rapid and reliable feature being the reason it is still popular after around 20 years use in agriculture.

Our business has always been about supplying the latest technology to farmers and growers, in an easy to handle, appropriate format.  We look for new technologies that we feel will give the grower a genuine advantage in management of their crop, and then set about delivering it in a way that will make it easy to use.

Much like EM38, NDVI images are not new. I first had NDVI images taken of my trial sites in the UK in 1998.  In those days the choice was low resolution satellite images, or very expensive cameras attached to aircraft.

Options for satellite imagery have improved greatly, but fundamental problems make it less than ideal for many applications. Issues include:

  • Minimum capture area (making small areas very expensive).
  • Low resolution.
  • Cloud cover.
  • Delivery time.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or ‘drones’ are the current big thing.  They are in the news almost daily; often for all the wrong reasons.  Clearly they have a role to play in agriculture and we are only just starting to touch on them as a useful, practical and accessible option for all kinds of agricultural purposes.

Factors affecting uptake of UAV based sensing technologies in agriculture have been broadly those of licencing, ruggedness and user-friendliness.  This presentation will explain how each of these factors has been addressed by FarmingIT.

Training and licensing has been a big part of the investment, this presentation will touch on the key requirements that CASA place on prospective UAV operators.

Our main use for this technology will be twofold.  Creating high resolution crop imagery, and creating detailed digital elevation models (DEMs) to aid in water management, such as paddock drainage.

This presentation will show some of the imagery we have collected this growing season, and also demonstrate some of the advanced information we are able to pull from these images.

Contact details

Martin Peters

FarmingIT, PO Box 90, Meredith VIC 3333

(03) 5286 1112
martin@farmingit.com.au