Imagery in agriculture and land management has come a very long way over the past decade. Drones complement satellite imagery by being less sensitive to cloud cover and can provide much higher resolution images for detailed analysis. The AI engines using these images are improving rapidly such that plant diseases, insect infestations and nutrient deficiencies can be detected from the detailed images.
Normal Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is probably the most prevailing technology to identify plant health through images. The NDVI data can be used to build a flight path for detailed imagery of areas that indicate problems. The final step of the process is to walk the paddock and do a detailed analysis of the plants, possibly collecting leaf and soil samples for analysis and development of a treatment plan.
Under “Useful Links” there is a link to a YouTube video that Oasis-Agri produced from drone images we captured of the “once in a hundred year flood” at Roxby Downs Station South Australia.
Drones are very good for precision spraying of herbicides, pesticides and foliar applications of nutrients.
The advantages of drones include:
- No cost of the flight time on the airframe to get to the spray site
- 30% less use of herbicide or pesticide due to the height of the drone and atomisation from the propellors
- Can be used in areas that may be hard to get to on land and dangerous for aircraft and rotorcraft pilots
- Much lower unit and operating cost
If CASA will allow the swarming of agricultural drones, the cost improves further as a single drone operator can fly three drones in parallel to spray 36 ha per hour.
Typically, for broad acre pastures, seeding from crop sprayers is more economical.
Oasis-Agri is working with Aboriginal elders to trial restoration of vast areas of their land with native species. For this work, we are looking at drones for preparing the soil to improve water infiltration and then seed these areas using drones.
As opposed to crop sprayers, drones have the advantage of:
- Being able to access difficult terrain easily and without damaging the fragile soil
- When the seeds sprout, being used to monitor progress as well as to understand which seedlings are most successful.