ADVANCEMENTS in drone technology could hold the key to affordably combating the State’s wild radish herbicide resistance issues.
That was the message from Planfarm consultant and Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI) leader of communications Peter Newman, who presented at the Society of Precision Agriculture Australia (SPAA) Corrigin Precision Agriculture Expo last Thursday.
Mr Newman has more than 20 years’ experience researching wild radish management and was one of last year’s recipients of the Council of Grain Grower Organisation’s (COGGO) Piper Award.
He is using funding through the award to explore the possibility of using drone technology to pinpoint green weeds in green crops to patch spray.
Mr Newman said although the State had made significant progress in tackling wild radish problems, Western Australian growers were still spending thousands of dollars managing the weed.
“We’ve still got wild radish but we’ve just got it in a few plants per metre, or even in some cases a few plants per hectare and the last few wild radish are costing us a fortune,” Mr Newman said.
“It occurred to me that we’ve beaten this weed in terms of numbers, but the last few are really resistant so how can we mop up these last few and save farmers money while fixing a resistant weed problem?
“It led me down the line of using drones and patch spraying to see if we could do it.”
The dream – according to Mr Newman – is to fly a drone over an entire cropping program within one day, taking images to pinpoint the exact location of the weeds.
From there, a prescription map would be manufactured and weed-affected patches of cropping programs sprayed with the required herbicide.
Mr Newman said this method would save growers time, money and resources.
“We’ll turn up, fly it (drone), we’ll crunch the data and then give you a prescription map a day or two later and you can go out with your existing machinery and save yourself time and money,” Mr Newman said.
“The dream is to be able to fly a large area in a day and give you a prescription map – obviously there’ll be a cost to that – but the aim is to save 95 per cent of your herbicide bill and spray all day on one tank.
“It’s about saving farmers time and money and killing your resistant radish.”
So far, Mr Newman has trialled two different types of drones with little success.
He said the main challenge was developing the camera technology that would allow a drone to fly a large area in a short amount of time, while maintaining the ability to capture quality images.
“You could get good images using a little multi-rotor ’copter and maybe do 50 hectares a day, but we want to do 200ha or 300ha an hour with one of these things.
“We’ve got to be able to turn up at your farm and fly 2000ha or 3000ha in a day and give you a prescription map for your whole weed program so you can go and spray it.
“There’s no point in doing this and just being able to do a tiny little area, we want to be able to do a large area.”
He said although the technology was “not there yet”, the possibility of using commercial drone services to target weeds was a realistic goal.
“If we can’t get the image quality that we need to find radish in wheat which is pretty low hanging fruit – a big, round radish in a spindly wheat crop – then it’s not going to happen from the drone,” Mr Newman said.
“The technology could be one of those things which is always 10 years away, but hopefully within the next year or two you’ll actually start to see some commercial services along these lines where we can actually deliver.
“It’s just a matter of being able to put the pieces together enough so that we can offer an efficient service that covers lots of area at a low enough cost so that it all works.”