A Nelson company has developed an agricultural farming drone which enables growers and horticulturalists to analyse the health of their crops at the click of a button.
The DroneMate Agriculture device combines a drone with a sophisticated sensor that uses near-infrared light to build up a picture of plant health.
Several speakers at the recent Horticulture New Zealand conference in Nelson spoke about the use of drones to improve productivity and efficiency in the industry.
DroneMate Agriculture director Geoff Sherlock said in recent years, drones had become smaller, faster and cheaper and they now had greater capabilities.
He said the company’s aim was to make drone technology more accessible to farmers. Sherlock described the product as precision agriculture for the masses.
The team have been working on the product for the last six months.
It combines a drone developed to be easy-to-use even for those with no previous experience and a multi-application sensor developed by United States company Sentera.
Once an area was mapped using GPS, a drone could be programmed to fly over the area, capture data through two surveys at once and return to the starting point.
The user could then remove the memory card from the sensor and insert it into a computer where information about plant health, harvesting and detailed photos could accessed through a program called AgVault.
It could illustrate which individual plants were struggling and needed special attention.
“So you can see trends over time and how your actions have affected your outcomes,” Sherlock said.
He said the technology enabled farmers to increase their output while saving costs. Gathering regular information about crops meant they could make changes to irrigation, fertiliser application, or pest control then re-survey later to see the results of those decisions.
He said the applications were endless.
The drone could also be used to locate stock, check troughs and gates and check up on the farm.
In the past, similar analysis over large areas was done by satellite or aeroplane surveys.
Sherlock said even a year ago, such technology was not available.
Much larger drones flown by experts could be sub-contracted by farmers but were expensive to run.
Appleby Fresh general manager Mark O’Connor, who was involved in trialling the product, said it allowed growers to document and process information about their plants and crops.
“It is getting out there and getting around places quickly with minimal effort.”
While the technology seemed complicated at first, O’Connor it was easy once you “got the hang of it”.
He said surveys showed the extent of flood damage and identified areas of concern that needed to be addressed.
With the cheapest model starting at $5000, O’Connor said it was not an expensive investment.
He said the use of drones was the way of the future.
“This is just the start I would think.”