Drones helping farmers survey stock could extend to pasture growth

cattle sheep monitoring drone

This post originally appeared on http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/81761800/drones-helping-farmers-survey-stock-could-extend-to-pasture-growth.

[Editor’s Note: In addition to monitoring stock, Neil hopes to also use the drone for mapping drains and monitoring weeds.]

For Neil Gardyne investing in drones is paying off on his hill country sheep, beef and cropping farm.

A few years ago Neil and Philipa Gardyne’s son Mark, then 11, started researching drones online before the family decided to buy a Chinese-made Hexocopter from the United States. They used that model to fly over their sheep flocks at their 466 hectare Otama Valley farm.

In 2013, they received funding support from Beef+Lamb New Zealand to investigate drone applications for farming.

Neil Gardyne presented some of the drone applications they are using at their farm, and hope to use in the future, with AbacusBio consultant Nadia Mclean at the Deer Industry Focused Farming Project Deer Technology Expo in Gore last week.

Mark, now 16, couldn’t be at the expo because of school, but his Dad was on-hand to describe what had been happening on the farm since they began using drones.

At first, the Gardynes were using the drone to monitor stock in hard-to-get or difficult terrain, checking for cast sheep during lambing, Neil said.

The drone flies a pre-determined flight plan, following pre-programmed waypoints, feeding back live pictures or recorded images to a laptop computer.

The applications on-farm were already proving to be beneficial, with only seven of 1200 hoggets needing assistance during lambing, meaning the paddocks could be checked less regularly in person, he said.

“There’s really been an advantage to having eyes in the sky, it’s a bit of peace of mind knowing that everything is fine.”

It cost $4 a kilometre to use a four-wheel motorbike and they could travel up to 11,000km a year, so checking the paddocks less in person was saving them on fuel and maintenance costs, he said.

They had reduced their motorbike use by 20 percent since adopting drone technology, but Gardyne hoped they lower that further to 50 per cent.

“There’s potentially a $3 billion improvement to sheep, beef and deer [farming].”

As well as monitoring stock, the drone could be used to map drains, count stock, monitor weeds, and monitor trough levels.

Gardyne hoped to eventually be able to measure their paddocks’ dry matter levels from the air.

AbacusBio began working with the Gardynes in 2013, as well as Mandeville farmers Russell and Pam Welsh, to help them find applications for drones in agriculture.

Mclean said AbacusBio would be working with Callaghan Innovation to find out why there had not been a huge uptake in drone use by farmers.

Two pilot farms, Telford and Lonestar Farms, will buy drones and be followed for a year to see whether they used the technology and how it would be used.

“We’re hoping that this will help us, and the wider sector, understand how we can use this technology and hopefully we can develop some other applications along the way,” Mclean said.

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