Farmers need usable data for the future

Queensland Agriculture Farming Drones

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[Editor’s Note: Tony Gilbert, a drone photographer and CEO, noted that for drones to become popular in Agriculture, they need to be easy to use and provide a real solution.]

The era of the “plugged-in farm” is just around the corner.

Technology is being developed that will allow a property to feed live data back to a central point allowing the farmer to make real-time decisions about how she or he should react to situations.

DATA MATTERS: University of Queensland’s eGatton project officer and farmer Armando Navas with a remote water monitoring unit that can be used to relay live information back to a central point to help a farmer’s decision-making.

For eGatton project officer and farmer Armando Navas, having a digitally-connected farm is no longer a foreign concept.

Mr Navas presented an information session at the 2016 National Horticultural and Innovation Expo in Gatton last month, speaking on drone technology and the possibility of developing smart farms.

Mr Navas is one of the key staff behind the University of Queensland’s Smart Campus Initiative concept which is aiming to provide a digital network to assist students’ learning with live data.

It is something of a model that could be applied to farms through field sensors, remote cameras and drones.

The network would provide information on crop health, soil moisture levels and livestock numbers.

It is here where Mr Navas, who has a background in cattle production, anticipates some major practical leaps forward.

“Whenever I talk to my colleagues about the same issues, you just see their eyes bulge and they get excited because they have been dreaming of this for decades,” he said.
“It’s a solution because they have been guessing too much.

“It will eliminate too much uncertainty and they truly think it will affect the bottom line because they can actually start making decisions that count.”

For instance, a farmer may use in-field sensors to relay an emerging problem at a specific location on an entire property rather than spending time trying to locate the problem in the first place.

“That simply focuses your resources in the right place at the right time,” Mr Navas said.

The university has collaborated with major vegetable producer Rugby Farms and seedling business Withcott Seedlings to test drone applications.

Getting the technology to work is only half the equation though.

The other half is making it user friendly so the average rural producer feels confident to embrace it.

Mr Navas said farmers readily accept new computerised gear but it currently wasn’t transparent enough to simply pick up and use.
FLY READY: Qld Drone Photography chief pilot and CEO Tony Gilbert with his tools of the trade, ready to address farmers’ growing interest in drone technology, at the National Horticultural and Innovation Expo.

He said it was about removing the highly technical middleman and presenting an easy-to-use frontend.

“I realised the other day that this has to be used by people who don’t have a technical background and it has to be brought down to work,” Mr Navas said.

“It needs to give them a real solution.”

Speaking specifically on drones, Mr Navas went through a range of drones currently available including some expensive models which would be practically out of reach for most growers.

He said he saw benefits in utilising smaller, cheaper drones with integrated cameras that could still provide relevant data.

Although costs and science-heavy products might be a deterrent, Mr Navas said, from his own experience, farmers have been working with technology for years.

“I’m a tinkerer, I like playing with the technology,” he said.

“I inherited that from my father and my brothers. It goes with the territory.”

He said it was about trying to find the balance between functionality and not being too complicated or expensive.

“It’s interesting. I just wish I could move faster because there is so much stuff to be done,” he said.


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