Australian interest in on-farm drone

Mark Gardyne (13), of Otama, is to demonstrate his drone at a conference in Australia in June. Photo by Yvonne O'Hara
Mark Gardyne (13), of Otama, is to demonstrate his drone at a conference in Australia in June. Photo by Yvonne O'Hara

Drone pilot Mark Gardyne (13), of Otama, is to be a keynote speaker at the University of Southern Queensland's Digital Rural Futures Conference in Toowoomba, Australia, in June.

Mark and his father Neil will demonstrate their drone, which they use to monitor stock, water and crops on their 466ha sheep, beef and cropping property, and talk about the roles unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can play in agriculture.

The conference runs from June 25 to 27.

Mark and his father were at the Southern Field Days, Waimumu, demonstrating their drone, alongside Coenraad Brand, a drone flight engineer for Aeronavics, Raglan. Mr Brand and director Linda Bulk were showcasing Aeronavics' remote-controlled drones.

The drones come in a variety of sizes and fly in a similar manner to a helicopter; they can be designed for specific jobs, such as identifying and spot-spraying particular weeds.

The on-board camera sends video and still images back to the operator's console, laptop or smartphone.

Mark wears goggles that allow him to see what the drone is seeing in real time.

Mr Gardyne said they had a lot of interest from farmers, particularly dairy farmers. In addition to counting stock, looking for animals in trouble or checking water-trough levels, the drones can be fitted with infra-red sensors so dairy farmers can use them at night to check on calving, saving them going out.

If a dairy farmer has automatic gates, he can use drones to bring his cows in for milking, and while they are doing that they can spot-spray any pest weeds.

The Gardynes are buying a bigger, better drone from Aeronavics to replace the one bought from overseas last year.

''It is the age we live in - as soon as we buy a new drone, it is superceded,'' Mr Gardyne said.

He said some dairy farmers believed that eventually a drone could replace one full-time worker.

He said another farmer told him he spent 19 days [annually] looking for power shorts in electric fences, which a drone could do.

''Farming will be a different place,'' he said.

Mr Gardyne said drones had low running costs as their batteries had a long life and could be recharged.

Civil Aviation Authority officers visited recently to talk to him about drones in agriculture.

''They wanted to understand just what we wanted to do with them.''

He and Mark are working with AbacusBio, of Dunedin, and Beef and Lamb New Zealand and have talked to a Search and Rescue group.

- by Yvonne O'Hara