IT’S now quicker and cheaper to get a drone in the air, and performing handy work on farm – with at least 10 hours of paper shuffling snuffed out and a $1400 certification charge rescinded.
New Civil Aviation Safety regulations (CASA) allows landholders to use small drones without a remote pilot licence or an operator’s certificate for agricultural purposes, and farmers are making hay while the sun shines.
But in the case of Phil Malone, "Terang", Gulargambone, who got his drone two months ago, it’s the work his aerial assistant can do in the waterlogged landscape after heavy falls at the end of winter – using its camera to fly over areas without stopping for gates, or even getting into inaccessible areas.
“We just couldn’t get into the paddock, even on the bike, or get across the creek to check fences or make sure stock aren’t trapped in the water,” he said.
Now, farmers can use drones under 25 kilograms without having to obtain an operator’s certificate, and without having to notify CASA. But the new rules apply standard operating conditions on private land (see panel right).
Mr Malone, who runs a cattle and cropping enterprise with his wife Helen, said any farmer should think about getting a drone for farm work and happily reports that “it’s not completely foolproof, but getting used to using the drone was quick,” he said.
New England Instrument Company’s Jason Sinnos, who sells drones in Tamworth, said sales to farmers were booming, with units priced around $2000 most popular for those wanting a good camera to check crops, stock and infrastructure.
Professor David Lamb, a drone devotee who leads University of New England’s cutting-edge showcase SMART Farm property, said the high-tech potential for drones was enormous, but it’s the “simple, time saving applications that should make you get one now”.
“You might have troughs to check within one kilometre, but you’d have to open close 20 gates to get there, or you can use them to fly along water lines looking for leaks – or even to check if lambing ewes are cast by using the drone to see if they move when the drone approaches.”
Off-the-shelf software can be applied to drone footage to create a tree inventory for carbon farming, or even map harvested feed from a paddock to identify underperforming areas, he said.