Clovely Estate has been using drones to keep control of their crops.
Clovely Estate has been using drones to keep control of their crops. Contributed

Debate over drone use

THEY might not yet be in widespread use, but drone technology has widespread applications on farms.

From the management of stock health to remote sensing paddock quality, drones now have the capacity to collect vital information to save farmers time and money.

Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation director Duncan Campbell said farmers could use small drones (less than 2kg) to check stock health, crop health and even the condition of fences.

"Drones could even be used to stop wild dogs pestering cattle and sheep," Mr Campbell said.

"We are looking into a number of (rural) applications (of drone technology).

Clovely Estate recently finished a trial of drones on its South Burnett vineyards to limit birds' impact on grape harvest.

The trial was a success and in this coming season the vineyard will have three drones in the air during the peak impact times (sunrise and sunset) to scare away pest birds.

Clovely Estate vineyard and olive grove manager Aaron Stephan said the company trialled the drones for several months.

"(Scaring away birds) was the primary function of the trial," Mr Stephan said.

"We lost about 150 tonnes of fruit last year (to birds) and needed something different.

"Right now we are using nets and gas scare guns to control the impact from birds.

"No one else is doing it at the moment. But it is a logical approach and for us they are autonomous, non-lethal and it's about streamlining the business."

Mr Stephen said the drones would also be used to measure canopy temperatures with infrared thermometers.

"The data is collected and processed instantly," he said.

Mr Campbell said Clovely's use of drone technology was only the beginning and more farmers would look at the technology to cut costs.

"I think it is a wonderful idea," he said.

"Drones can do an awful lot in a very short amount of time," he said.

He said the use of drone technology could explode, with regulators looking at loosening restrictions for drones less than 2kg.

Industry concern

The potential increase in the use of drones has some industry experts concerned.

Mr Campbell said commercial drone operators were required to be licensed but with drones becoming more popular the risk of misuse increased.

"There are about 200 certificate holders right now," Mr Campbell said.

He said most operators worked in aerial photography, but more rural operators were looking into drone technology to improve farm operations.

"The danger is what happens if a drone is involved in a collision with another aircraft," Mr Campbell said.

In September, Civil Aviation Safety Authority issued a statement on its drone regulations.

The authority also warned drone operators to avoid flying remote-control aircraft near bushfires.

"Even a small drone could bring down a helicopter if it collided with the tail rotor, or an aeroplane if it hits the propeller," the statement said.

"Flying your drone near a bushfire could lead to aircraft being grounded to avoid it.

"If a fire gets out of control because water bombing aircraft can't fly it could cost even more lives than a collision."

Farmers interested in using drones on their properties should visit www.casa.com.au to find out about certification requirements.

South Burnett

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