NEW aerial drone technology could benefit grain growers across the Wimmera.
The multi-spectral imaging technology was developed by the University of South Australia.
It could provide cost-effective mechanisms for farmers to plan and deliver precise water and nutrients to their crops on a need-by-need basis.
The technology works by enabling drones to sense a vegetation index to signifying the crop health, moisture and nutrient content of targeted patches, allowing farmers to see beyond the naked eye.
This will make it easier and more efficient for farmers to manage agricultural land, and for breeders to generate new varieties.
Grain Producers Australia chairman and Rupanyup grain farmer Andrew Weidemann said drones were becoming a more commonly used tool on farms.
“I actually use one myself on my farm,” he said.
“We just started using it this year and aim to perform crop inspections throughout the season to get an overall view of the fields, and see of there are any certain areas that need attention for weeding.
“You still have to go out there on foot to inspect, but it does help give a top view of the fields.
“They’re definitely not common in our area, but farmers are starting to experiment using them more and discovering new areas where they can be used for.
“We will be evaluating whether it’s of value and whether the technology is something worth investing in further.”
Mr Weidemann said it was already common for livestock farmers to use drones on their farms.
“They certainly help with livestock management and keeping track of stock,” he said. “Potentially in time they will become a more used item on all farms.”
Lead researcher Dr Zohaib Khan said the new technology would help benefit Australia’s wheat sector, which is worth more than $5 billion annually.
“Drones enable farmers to move from traditional farming practices to precision farming, increasing their ability to accurately nurture crops across different sectors, at a reduced cost,” he said.
“Until now, the drones required an expensive multispectral camera to scan agricultural land and indicate where there is a need for additional irrigation or application of fertiliser to selected crop segments.
“Just as satellites map the Earth’s resources, drones can produce colour-coded images that show the presence and state of vegetation on land, from crop performance, to disease detection.”
The technology identifies healthy plants exhibiting a high vegetation index — shown as bright green regions— and mature, stressed or dead plants and soil manifesting a low vegetation index — displayed as yellow areas.