NSW Farmers together with Tocal College will be holding funded drone training courses in the region over the next few months, delivered by Molong farmer Ben Watts through his company BRALCA.
Farmers of all different generations and farm types are embracing drone use for a variety of applications, and a training course is the perfect starting point for those either keen to learn whether it is suitable for their farm and budget - or those who want to learn how to use them safely and effectively.
Eight ways farmers can utilise drones
1 - Safety: A drone can enable a farmer to see more of who and what is on their property. For example during harvest, a drone can tell where everyone is on the property and ensure they are all safe from harm.
2 - Spraying: Certain drones can be equipped with specialised sprayers that can spray affected crops with pesticide at a much more affordable price than a helicopter or crop duster. Digital mapping also allows the sprayed areas to be much more concentrated and specific.
3 - Seeding: Drones can be fitted with devices that propel a germinated seed through the air, planting them into the ground.
4 - Imaging: Allows farmers to evaluate how crops are faring, comparing paddocks through thermal imaging.
5 - Analysing soil health: Special cameras attached to a drone can detect things like moisture, nutrient and gas levels, at a much higher image quality than a plane or satellite.
6 - Mapping potential plant patterns: Mapping out pre-planting patterns with a drone saves precious man hours.
7 - Checking for diseases: Drone cameras will enable a farmer to check crops and pastures for pests and diseases, and pinpoint the particular trouble spots; which also cuts down on the amount of spray that is needed.
8 - Animal welfare: During lambing season, a drone would be particularly handy to ensure the flock is safe and sound. There is a lot of research currently being undertaken to evaluate the best ways to use a drone in regards to monitoring farm animals.
Farmers may be eligible for a $500 rebate from SafeworkNSW for the purchase of an eligible drone - though to be eligible for a drone rebate you must already own an agricultural quad bike or side-by-side vehicle.
While you can buy hobby drones for under $500, drones that are suitable for farm work start at just under $3000 and can go into the tens of thousands depending on what they are used for.
The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has a fantastic website - https://www.casa.gov.au/drones - that outlines the rules, regulations and requirements of owning and flying a drone.
The do's and dont's of drone flying according to CASA:
- only fly one drone at a time
- always fly your drone within visual line-of-sight (not binoculars or video screen)
You must not fly your drone
- higher than 120 m (400 ft) above ground level
- closer than 30 m to people
- over or above people at any time or height
- in a way that creates a hazard to another person, aircraft or property
- near emergency situations
- in prohibited or restricted airspace or closer than 5.5 km to a controlled aerodrome or airfield
Proposed dates and locations for training courses:
- Condobolin: February 2
- Tullamore: February 3
- Parkes: February 16
- Cootamundra: March 4
- Young: April 13
- Forbes: April 14
- Manildra: April 15
If you have any questions in relation to the training, please contact Catriona McAuliffe (NSW Farmers Regional Services Manager for the Lachlan and Upper Riverina) on email@example.com or 0488 100 005.
The current funding available is through AgSkilled, which is only available for those working in the grains, cotton, horticulture or viticulture industries.
Go to https://nswtrade.wufoo.com/forms/drones-in-agriculture/ to apply.