Drone mapping in agriculture on the rise

An infrared map highlights a main line leak and tap leaks.

Start-up businesses that use drones to assess crop health through infrared mapping are becoming more popular across Australia, according to industry players and researchers.

Using normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) — a mapping method that identifies whether an area contains live green vegetation or not — drone surveillance can provide an early warning of crop stress and crop health issues on farming properties.

While the use of NDVI is not new, and has been used through satellite and plane surveying for almost a decade, industry players say drones can provide a far more detailed map resolution — measuring areas within centimetres, compared to metres.

Using drones is also relatively fast and cheap.

Deakin University associate professor John Hornbuckle said, over the past 12 to 18 months, the country had seen a “dramatic uptake” of start-up companies using drones for this specific method.

“What you’re starting to see is a number of start-up companies within the space collecting that information and providing a service back to farmers,” he said.

“Also you’re seeing traditional agronomists taking up the technology and using it within their business to provide more site-specific information back to farmers about how they can manage their nitrogen or their water, for instance.”

Potential for future businesses

Dr Hornbuckle recently lead a Grains Research and Development Corporation-funded research project by Deakin University’s Centre for Regional and Rural Futures investigating drones and satellite technology for monitoring crop performance to improve nitrogen use and water management decisions.

He said he believed there was big potential for even more businesses to work in the space in the near future, although farmers would also eventually be able to pick it up themselves.

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