Drones now track wild pigs and other pests as farmers lean into agtech

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Jack Cresswell keeps a close eye on the wild pigs on his property from his living room.

He farms dorpers near Dubbo and using his drone to monitor pests saves him weeks to months by being able to effectively trap or bait.

It also saves time and fuel, as he doesn’t have to ride a motorbike around to find them, which is especially helpful with exorbitant fuel prices.

He simply sends the drone over the property to search for wild pigs and monitors live footage.

“Lambing is so crucial right now, and during a drought, and by monitoring the pigs, we can see exactly where they are and base our baiting program on that,” Cresswell said.

Aerial drone view of Mr Cresswell’s property with a group of feral pigs visible in the upper left.(Provided: Jack Cresswell)

“It helps us set the traps much better.”

Cresswell also saw a reduction in labor costs because he was able to monitor water and tank levels much faster.

“It would save four hours of work, you can do it in half an hour with the drone. It saves at least four hours a week or about $200 for the day.”

Jack Creswell
Jack Cresswell has been using drones on his farm near Dubbo for around 10 years.

Pressures such as extreme weather and soaring input costs are pushing more farmers to adopt new ways of working.

Increasing efficiency, a priority for farmers

At the Big Tech Big Ideas Day and Conference in Western New South Wales, growers and growers discussed how they could use new technology on their properties to increase efficiency. .

Tristan Steventon, who runs agricultural drone company StevTech in Parkes, said his drones can detect problems on the farm like pests or weeds.

“We scan a paddock with our drone, find and detect particular weed species, and push that data into AI or machine learning software,” Steventon said.

“We can then turn that data into a file to go into a spray drone to get to the root of the problem.

Aerial footage of sheep taken by drone
A drone image of Jack Cresswell’s dorper stud farm near Dubbo.(Provided: Jack Cresswell)

The technology can detect weeds in a green-on-brown or green-on-green situation and has saved farmers up to 90% of their chemical costs in a single paddock.

Demand for drones from farmers has increased dramatically, with around half of the farmers Mr Cresswell sees now using drones.

He has been using drones on the farm for about a decade now.

Technology has improved exponentially over the past two or three years, depending on the number of filters and software now available for use with drones.

Professor Guy Roth of the University of Sydney, however, said the benefits of drones in agriculture have been overstated.

“Drones are fantastic for taking pictures and there are great applications like spray drones. It’s just not as easy as it looks,” Dr Roth said.

The technology will also not work well in low connectivity areas.

But there may be a way to at least close the knowledge gap.

Ben Watts, a drone operator, admitted there was a lot to learn before people could use a drone on the farm.

However, he said he has found that with training and practice, many farmers have been able to incorporate the technology into their day-to-day operations fairly quickly.

The NSW government is offering free drone training courses to farmers as part of its AgSkilled 2.0 scheme, which could help them better harness the technology as it becomes mainstream.

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