'Avondale' deploys drone for mustering and scouting

There has been a rapid uptake of drones in the agricultural sector, according to the ACIL Allen's report.

Will Picker, of 'Avondale' in Bigga, says the use of a DJI Navic Pro drone makes farming more efficient.

Agtech: Will Picker, 'Avondale' holds a drone which is perceived as a low-risk technology, potentially high-risk technologies include genetic editing and AI.

Agtech: Will Picker, 'Avondale' holds a drone which is perceived as a low-risk technology, potentially high-risk technologies include genetic editing and AI.

Mr Picker has 5000 fine-wool merinos and 50 head of Angus cattle on his property in the Southern Tablelands.

Initial use of the drone was to assess damage or breaks in fencing, mustering sheep, and to check for feral animals, as well as accessing difficult steep terrain too dangerous for riding motorbikes.

"It makes sense to send the drone out to have a look."

He had also hoped to use the drone to check ewes and lambs at lambing time.

"I'm keen to see where it can go in the future for weed control, but mainly [I used it] to assist with mustering sheep and checking boundary fences."

Using the drone he cut down the time to muster a mob of 600 to a quarter of the usual time.

"It doesn't eliminate the jobs it just makes it more efficient and more efficient use of labour."

Sensors, digital imagery, compact size, data collection and GPS tracking made the drone easy to use.

"It basically flies itself."

The research by ACIL Allen in 2018, shows that drone use is perceived as low risk, however, Mr Picker followed regulations of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

The 'Can I fly there' application covers aviation rules about where a drone can be flown.

However, there are current restrictions are in place, such as a drone operator has to maintain a visual, 120 metres above ground, and distance from an aerodrome which doesn't support use in farming.

Mr Picker says, maintaining a visual can be difficult.

If the drone is under the height restrictions, and on your own property, without other aircraft, this restriction doesn't work in an agricultural setting, he said.

A spokesperson for CASA said, the use of a done in the agriculture category is for lower risk operations and doesn't require a licence, although farmers do need approval for these conditions.

However, "if a commercial operator or farmer wants to fly beyond visual line of sight they should get a licence and if operating their own drone a certificate to be a non recreational drone operator.

"The training that needs to be done equips these operators to do higher risk drone operations such as beyond visual line of sight."

Mr Picker, also uses various phone applications.

"I use, lifetime ewe management to assess how much feed and supplementary feed I have to do.

He also tunes into online webinars because of the convenience to tune in, and has attended mini-field days about technology.

He is also considering introducing Electronic Identification (EID) tags which are currently more common in the stud industry and in Victoria, he said.

Mandatory EID tagging was introduced into sheep breeds in Victoria, and the Victorian State Government provided funding and grants and subsidised prices as part of the transition.

While there is currently no mandatory tagging in NSW, regulations in Victoria introduced on January 1 require mandatory EID tagging within Victoria for interstate born sheep and goats.

In Victoria, producers can purchase subsidised EID tags from $0.55, while in NSW prices are quoted to start from around $1.50.