DRONES may not yet have proven their value within large broadacre cropping programs, but it seems the technology has found its place assisting trial work in the Wheatbelt.
For the first time drones were brought into the Corrigin Farm Improvement Group’s (CFIG) Spring Field Day last week, demonstrating to the 70 people in attendance the role the technology can play in trial data collection.
More than 20 trials and demonstrations are being run by CFIG in collaboration with various other project partners and group sponsors this year, including a chemical fallow rotation trial that was on show at local grower Gavin Hooper’s property last Thursday.
The small plot trial project - which has been funded through the Council of Grain Grower Organisations (COGGO) - was designed to test the relative benefit of chemical fallow.
Previous research by CFIG has shown that crops grown on chemical fallow can increase returns on medium and heavier textured soils in the Corrigin district.
The trial compared seven different crop types on chemical fallow to identify which crop was likely to produce the highest return.
Canola, lupins, wheat, barley, lentils, chickpeas and oats were sown on April 28, 2017 and technology from Stratus Imaging was brought in to analyse the data.
CFIG executive officer Veronika Crouch said the drones had been introduced to the trial work to give growers in the region an idea of the different applications of the technology.
“We approached Stratus Imaging to come and talk to our guys during the field walk as part of the eConnected Grainbelt project, just for a bit of awareness for some of the things that are out there,” Ms Crouch said.
“Not many of the guys use drone technology in the region just yet, it’s just a matter of making them aware that there are some of those technologies available and they can have a fit for your business, depending on how you use them.
“In terms of trial work, because you’re only doing a small area they can be of great use.”
Drone imagery was used to analyse the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) of the varying trial plots, with results showing a low NDVI score for grain legumes sown on fallow.
Ms Crouch said the wet start to the year had significantly impacted results, with heavy summer rains and a lack of soil cover on the fallow plots believed to have played a role.
“Obviously the dry start had an impact but with all of the summer rain we had at Gavin’s place with the soil type that it is, we got a slaking effect where basically the topsoil cemented itself which for some of the fallow made it really had for crop establishment,” Ms Crouch said.
“Where we seeded into stubble we had a lot better establishment which was quite interesting.”
Stratus Imaging general manager Jonathon Smith said along with capturing NDVI, drone technology could be used to test various other components of trials.
“What else we can do on a plot level analysis is we can actually look at it and the canopy cover and between flights we’ve been able to get the ability to measure plant growth to within 5 millimetres,” Mr Smith said.
“The benefits of that - especially from the research side of things - it makes it nice and easy, you get a real good understanding of what’s happening in the plot.
“You can’t say an informed decision on what you don’t know, with this imagery gives you that ability in season to monitor exactly how things are going.”