Could Drones Be the Next Big Thing for the Australian Olive Industry?

With legislation making drone ownership easier and more affordable, many farmers are could find a more effective means of crop monitoring and maintenance.

By Mary Hernandez
Jan. 24, 2017 10:52 UTC

In the increas­ingly unsta­ble world of farm­ing, every­thing from volatile weather con­di­tions, to pests and dis­ease, to ris­ing oper­a­tional costs pose a threat to crops and live­stock. Time is of the essence when it comes to deal­ing with and erad­i­cat­ing many of these prob­lems before they spread or worsen.

Many Australian farm­ers are turn­ing to agri­cul­tural drones as a cost and time effec­tive means of keep­ing tabs on their herds and fields — and olive farm­ers are no dif­fer­ent.

The agri­cul­tural drone mar­ket might be rel­a­tively unheard of, but see­ing that it’s quadru­pled in value since 2012, that’s likely to change very soon. Experts are say­ing that the mar­ket (val­ued at $673 mil­lion in 2015) will exceed $2.9 bil­lion in the next four years.

Technology once used by the mil­i­tary has found its home in agri­cul­tural drones, or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), allow­ing farm­ers to bet­ter plan their plant­ing and crop rota­tion strate­gies by pro­vid­ing a day-to-day progress report on their fields and soil, as well as their irri­ga­tion and even any pest infes­ta­tions.

Using advanced sen­sors and imag­ing capa­bil­i­ties to take aer­ial images, agri­cul­tural drones can pro­vide an early detec­tion with mul­ti­spec­tral imagery that detects signs of sick­ness in plants that are not vis­i­ble to the naked eye.

Many drones can be pro­grammed to take a par­tic­u­lar flight path with­out hav­ing to be steered or directed via remote con­trol. The fact that it does all this at a frac­tion of the price of hir­ing a manned heli­copter or light air­plane is another fac­tor adding to its appeal.

Drones are oper­ated on autopi­lot and use GPS to ori­ent them­selves in the air and are equipped with Near Infrared Cameras which take images by direct­ing a wave­length of light to a plant. This, in turn, reflects a cer­tain amount of light back based on the health of the plant.

It’s all part of the grow­ing trend of the local and inter­na­tional farm­ing com­mu­nity turn­ing to data-dri­ven, pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture to min­i­mize losses and max­i­mize gains.

Initial research into using agri­cul­tural drones in olive farms has already proved suc­cess­ful in Spain. The ImaPing Research Group and researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture from Cordoba (part of the Spanish National Research Council – or Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) revealed that they were able to use drones to log detailed infor­ma­tion on the size and devel­op­ment of each tree in a sam­ple olive grove, as well as gather infor­ma­tion on the geospa­tial rela­tion­ships of the olive trees to prop­er­ties of the soil in the area and the pres­ence of weeds.

The num­ber of farm­ers using agri­cul­tural is set to increase this year, with the Australian Civil Aviation Authority (CASA) mak­ing the process of oper­at­ing a drone for com­mer­cial pur­poses eas­ier than ever by relax­ing leg­is­la­tion in September 2016.

Those who intend on using a drone weigh­ing less than about 4.5 pounds for com­mer­cial pur­poses now only need notify CASA of their inten­tions and ensure they meet the out­lined stan­dard of oper­a­tions, which include only fly­ing the drone dur­ing the day and not oper­at­ing more than one at a time.


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