Giant drones and robotic sprayers might sound like something from an alien world.
- New large-scale drones and autonomous vehicles are being used to spray weeds
- It’s hoped the technology will prevent the risk of chemical spray drift
- Drone operators are required to be certified and undertake training to use the machines
But the new technology that has the ability to precisely spray weeds is being seen as the key to reducing the risk of chemical spray drifting onto neighbouring properties and paddocks full of crops.
The issue of spray drift is an ongoing issue for farmers with incidents resulting in crops being damaged and millions of dollars of potential income being lost.
“Spray drift has real impacts on the environment and there is a greater understanding on the accuracy needed when spraying chemicals onto weeds,” said Australian Agricultural Centre CEO Jo Marshall.
“People want to see what drones and autonomous vehicles can do to their bottom line and productivity.
Reducing the risk of spray drift
Large-scale drones and autonomous vehicles are capable of carrying a weight of 25 kilograms and contain a tank with a capacity of holding 16 litres for spraying.
Brenden McMahon of ChemCert Training Group said the ability of the drones to be targeted in what they are spraying minimises the spray drift risk.
“The nozzle is similar to boom spray and either ground-based applications, but the difference is this technology is so targeted and versatile,” he said.
Legislation to operate drones and driverless vehicles
The uptake of spray drones and autonomous vehicles required new rules to be put in place to ensure they were used safely.
Given their industrial size — and a price tag of approximately $40,000 — those who purchase or use them are required to be certified and undergo extensive training.
Mr McMahon said operators needed to understand how to apply the chemicals correctly and have certification from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
“Given the popularity of this new technology, organisations like ours are working with people to help them through the legislative processes to use these machines,” he said.
Farmers keen to embrace technology
Much of Tom Gunthorpe’s property near Boorowa is hilly and inaccessible with weeds unable to be sprayed by traditional means.
“The topography is rocky and too difficult to walk, and there are areas that have just been left unattended,” he said.
“I bought a smaller personal drone recently. But with the new technology allowing much larger storage capacity and the ability to spray means we can do things we haven’t been able to do before.
Mr Gunthorpe has been undertaking a remote pilot licence to allow him to purchase and operate a drone which could spray the weeds from above.
“There’s a fair level of requirements needed to operate them, with several commercial requirements and approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to use spray,” he said.
“But being able to use drones and driverless vehicles mean farmers can turn more parts of their farms into productive areas.”