An explosion of new software is triggering a surge in the use of drones on farms, says a former Australian Army officer who has founded an ag-tech company built on collecting data using the machines.
Tristan Steventon spent 20 years in the military before returning to his farming roots in the Parkes district of Central West NSW.
Mr Steventon said he established StevTech in late 2016 with drought starting to bite and a residual scepticism still lingering among farmers about the value of drones to their businesses.
StevTech staff are now mainly working with agronomists and some bigger agricultural companies.
Ben Watts, who is involved with NSW Farmers Association programs to teach farmers how to fly and use drones, said agriculture was now an industry leader in terms of the numbers of licensed and compliant operators.
Mr Watts operates Bralca, a diverse and innovative family business at Molong in Central West NSW, which includes a Merino stud and a range of drone services.
He said drone use in agriculture was rising along with the number of jobs they could do.
While the big application drones (around 40kg) generated the most excitement at field days, a commercial pilot's licence was needed to fly them, he said.
"They're great and they have an application (particularly for herbicide and fertiliser delivery) but on a lot of farms we are now seeing very clever, innovative, high-tech gear being embedded within a usable drone that can be put on somebody's backpack," Mr Watts said.
"The classic is a drone in a box on a ute but we are seeing more drones on the front of ATVs or side-by-sides, they are using them to help spot stock and get them started for mustering."
Drones meant riders on ATVs or side-by-sides didn't have to risk accidents by going into "crazy steep" terrain to find animals.
Mr Watts said he had seen people on horseback mustering in the Snowy Mountains with drones in their backpacks which were launched to find the whereabouts of cattle in tough terrain.
Consumer-type drones had been launched since Christmas with both visual sensors and genuine thermal cameras which had opened up new potential uses for farmers.
For example, the thermal cameras could be used to spot leaks in water pipes in green grass, he said.View on Web
Vernon Graham, https://www.farmonline.com.au/profile/567/vernon-graham