On a windy, rainy, Wednesday June 1st, Mitta Valley Landcare and Agriculture Victoria held a free AgTech Field Day at Eskdale Recreation Reserve. The well-attended event attracted people from across Towong Shire and neighboring areas. The day was an opportunity to learn relevant information for using drones on farm, and started with hearing why attendees wanted to learn more about the technology, some of the comments were:
“Employees are hard to find, drones could cover some jobs”
“Interested to start using drones”
“Monitoring on farm pest activity for pigs, deer, and wild dogs”
“Applying drones to daily farm operation”
“Learning how to operate, and fit [the equipment] into farming operations”
“The barrier of learning the technology”
The first speaker was Erica Schelfhorst from Boort Best Wool Best Lamb group, presenting results from a recent three-year on-farm study using drones for livestock monitoring in sheep operations. She touched on the pros and cons of using the early model Phantom and DJI Mavic and how far AgTech has progressed in the last four years. She also showed examples of using the equipment for checking pasture, troughs, fences, irrigation, and as an integrated tool in farm management.
The second speaker was Casper Kenworthy from the University of NSW Canberra, who was a part of a recent research project, Sky Shepard, that compared using dogs vs drones in sheep mustering. Those in the room were able to ask him questions around the study such as, can different sounds [i.e., a dog bark] be uploaded into the drone? Was there a difference in results when mustering between different breeds of sheep? Can sound association for the animal be a positive or negative? Casper mentioned that the perception of mustering with a powered drone and having to change over the batteries is like taking multiple dogs for the day and rotating them, and the barrier of learning the AgTech can be overcome by purchasing equipment that comes with on-farm training.
The third speaker was Alastair Tame from Field Master Systems, a commercial company focused on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for government using remotely piloted aircraft systems. A great visual presentation gave an update on just how far AgTech has progressed, and the results his company are achieving utilising drones for spraying in inaccessible areas, and for observation to capture data on invasive pest movements. He spoke on mapping GPS flight paths, connectivity, CASA rules, industry compliance, flying tips, personal expectations around usage, and the importance of having some photography skill or gaining practice with attachment camera lenses if you plan on using drones just for digital use. Alastair highlighted the benefits of using a drone to capture information for legal assistance to fight illegal activity such as trespassers cutting fences to gain access. He had two drones on display giving a flying demonstration of the spraying DJI Agras T10, and the DJI Maivc 3 that was set up with photographic, thermal, and laser lenses. The Mavic 3 was suggested as a great all rounder drone for farm use. He highly recommended that new users should buy the cheapest drone they can find, practice flying before investing into high tech equipment, and to be persistent in your learning, stating that we had to learn to drive the tractor before we could operate the tractor!
The final speaker Ben Costin from Agriculture Victoria gave an interesting talk on the information gathered from a local Soil Moisture Monitoring Station, a piece of equipment permanently installed in your paddock to collect data, allowing the user to compare overall season averages. This AgTech tool can use soil water meters and pinpoint the opportune time to sow crops and improve pastures, by autonomously monitoring ground temperatures.
Our local farming area gained some regional coverage thanks to journalist Annie Brown reporting on the day for ABC Goulburn Murray’s Country Hour. Thank you to Margie Tobin for ensuring the function room was toasty warm and the urn was ready for morning coffee top ups! And to Robyn Scales and Irene Lewis for their legendary catering, and Karen Moroney’s help in the kitchen. Thanks to all who attended and I’m sure everyone left with new information and valuable knowledge to navigate their journey using drones on farm and in business.