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Beyond the Bale : March 2015
28 ON FARM REMOTE MONITORING TAKES OFF Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly known as a drones, can be used as an alternative to some of the jobs normally done in a ute or on a bike, such as monitoring stock, pasture, water and fencing. Imagine being able to check the water levels on your property, the condition of fencing, or the location of stock – all without you leaving the homestead. It might sound like a pipe dream, but this is now all possible with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly known as a drones. Although still in its infancy in agriculture, the use of drones is already relatively common in other civilian occupations such as geology and surveying. With the technology already available in the commercial arena, there is potential for woolgrowers to use drones right now to help them reduce labour costs and take some of the strain out of growing wool. Fine wool producer Ben Watts from Molong in central-west NSW – who is a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program which was sponsored by AWI – uses drones on his property and advises other woolgrowers on how best to use them. “Drones have enabled us to reduce some of the time-consuming and physically demanding jobs on the farm, and ultimately save money,” Ben says. “They are also safer than traditional monitoring practices which can involve family members riding their bike through thick scrub country or near roads. “We use the drones to monitor our waterways and troughs, identify any fencing that needs repair, and check up on our stock. They help us locate our sheep, see if any are bogged, or sick and in trouble, and observe lambing ewes without being intrusively there in person. You can even use them for checking up on stranded sheep during floods. “Drones can also be used to remotely check the condition of a pasture or to identify weeds. And there is even potential to fit them with infra-red cameras that can produce a yield map of pasture or crops in a paddock.” HOW DRONES WORK Drones are controlled either manually in real time through the remote control of the “pilot on the ground” – the farmer, or autonomously by the drone following a flightpath and instructions that the farmer has pre-programmed. Drones can help take some of the hard work out of wool-growing and contribute to an enterprise’s bottom line by saving on labour costs. They can be used as an alternative to some of the jobs normally done in a ute or on a bike, such as monitoring water, fencing, stock and pasture.