It doesn't matter where I go, drones always catch the attention of farmers! Back in 2016, right before I started Fly the Farm, I was on the committee of the Australian Summer Grains Conference. One of the industry organisations I work for brought out Chad Colby from Colby Ag Tech in the US to give one of the keynote talks at the conference about drone use in Agriculture. It was one of the most well attended sessions at the conference (well, apart from our closing keynote from Wayne Bennett) and the audience was captivated. Our stand was constantly busy with people coming past asking about the drone, how it worked, how far it flew, what kind of camera it had. I picked up all the information I could from Chad during those few short days. It was at that conference that I realised the need for someone with agricultural experience to help farmers out when they were looking at bringing a drone into their business.
I’ve attended numerous conferences and field days since then and not much has changed, bring a drone out and you’ll get attention. The bigger the drone, the more attention you will get!
Well, these days you can’t get a much bigger, commercially available drone than the DJI Agras T series spray drones. This has become one very popular drone over the last 6 months in Australia. I get numerous enquiries each week from people wanting to know how much it costs. But cost is only a small part of bringing a spray drone on to your farm or your business. There are a number of other considerations that you must take into account when looking at spray drones.
The first thing you must consider are the requirements for piloting the drone.
To fly a drone such as the T16, which has a Minimum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of 42kg, you’ll need the following:
- An Aviation Reference Number (ARN);
- A Remote Pilot’s Licence (RePL) for multicopter, completing both the 0-7 and 7-25kg weight categories. For aircraft in the ‘medium’ weight classification such as the T16, you will also need to be certified by CASA for that particular craft;
- It is recommended to obtain an Aeronautical Radio Operator Certificate (AROC), in case you ever need to fly in controlled airspace or beyond visual line of sight;
- English Language Proficiency Exam (ELP);
- Remote Operators Certificate (ReOC), issued initially for 1 year, after which your certificate can be renewed for 3 years.
- To have your ReOC application processed, you’ll need to be assessed either by CASA or a CASA delegate. Get ready for a large amount of forms and documents!
To ensure you are always getting the most up to date information on licencing visit https://www.casa.gov.au/drones
The licencing process can be very complicated, so it is recommended that you work with a reputable training organisation who can help guide you through the process. We work with UAS Pacific P/L who provide all of our training, and assist our clients through the process of obtaining their ReOC.
The second thing you must consider are the regulations for the application of chemical products by drone. Each state and Territory have their own separate and often very different requirements when it comes to drone application of chemicals.
There will be certain certifications that you will require. All of this information is available online, however it is sometimes not so easy to find. This is where Tip 6 comes in.
The third issue you must consider is whether or not the chemical/s you wish to apply, can actually be applied via drone as per their label requirements.
At this point in time, those wishing to apply chemicals via drone must follow the label as per aerial application requirements on the label. Go and have a read of the labels you wish to apply and ensure that it can be done.
Insurance is the fourth consideration when looking at moving into drone spraying on a commercial basis. Make sure both you, your craft and your customers are covered in case of anything going wrong.
Are you covered in case of an accident? Is your drone covered in case it crashes and breaks or causes damage to others property. Are your customers covered (by YOUR insurance) in case your drone or application causes damage to their crop or property?
The fifth issue to consider is your previous experience. What is your previous experience with applying chemicals? Have you agricultural experience to draw from? Do you understand the importance of correct chemical application. Do you know what off-target spray drift is? (That question is a favourite of mine!)
The reason I state this is because I have seen that the best operators are those who have previous agricultural experience, working on a farm, applying chemicals via ground rig or similar, even working with vet chems. I’m not saying that those without this experience will fail, simply that there is less of a learning curve if you’ve had exposure to the industry previously!
Understand the pitfalls of chemical applications, lots can go wrong and the consequences are huge.
Finally, the sixth thing you must consider is working with a supplier who you can trust and who can ensure that you are getting the full picture. One of my main focuses over the last few years has been assisting my customers to get the right information, particularly when there is so much info out there, much of it conflicting!
I’m fortunate to be able to pull from my background in agriculture. Yep, I might not drive a tractor and it has been years since I’ve helped my Dad muster, but I maintain my contact with agriculture on a daily basis. I am based on a grain farm on the Darling Downs and I work in the grains industry alongside Fly the Farm. I’m on the Aerial Agriculture sub-committee of the Australian Certified UAV Operators, one of the peak industry bodies for the Australian drone industry. I have been able to provide agricultural insight into the sub-committee and their decisions, however it also allows me to keep up to date with what is happening in the drone spraying industry and across state regulations. Industry participation has always been important to me, and this is one way I can help both agriculture and the drone industry.
There is lots of potential for the use of drones in spraying, whether it be in pasture situations to control woody weeds or in horticulture and even in broadacre cropping. But keep in mind the 6 tips that I have given you, go out and talk to people, do some research. See if there is a fit for a drone. Then come to me to help you sort through the rest.