New regulations set to take effect September 2016 will open up new opportunities for UAV use in Australia's agricultural sector.
Agriculture is a science that requires hard work and sound judgement based on information. Naturally, the more data farmers have at their disposal, the more effectively they can plan and manage their crops.
While farmers around the world are seeing the benefits of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), regulations in Australia have proven to be somewhat prohibitive in allowing agricultural professionals to take advantage of these versatile systems. Change is on the horizon however, with new regulations primed to strike down some of these barriers and open the doors for the use of drones on farms across the country.
Giving farmers a bird's-eye view
It's important for farmers to have a clear picture of everything that's happening in their fields. Of course, getting that picture is a monumental task, given that Australia is home to 385 million hectares of land dedicated to agriculture, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. With 284,000 workers in the sector, according to the Department of Employment, that leaves over one thousand hectares per worker. Needless to say, any technology that makes surveying that much land more efficient would be incredibly beneficial. That's where UAVs come in, delivering high-quality aerial photos of crops in record time.
With other sensors that can be mounted on a UAV, farmers can also get a better picture of the health of their crops. Researchers for International Water Management Institute (IWMI) tested this technology with crop fields in Sri Lanka. Salman Siddiqui, head of GIS remote sensing and data at IWMI, noted how infrared sensors can identify potential issues with crop health.
"Using near-infrared, you can identify stress in a plant 10 days before it becomes visible to the eye," said Mr. Siddiqui, as reported in The Guardian.
He noted that the advanced warning period can give farmers time to identify the cause of the stress and potentially save large areas of crops from a number of issues. Through this and other uses, UAVs stand to be an invaluable tool for Australian farmers.
Striking down the barriers to entry
A major issue for farmers looking to use UAVs has been regulations from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) that required a UAV operator's certificate (UOC) for anyone using a drone commercially. With a processing time of 80 working days and an estimated $2,300 price tag, according to CASA, it's no surprise that most agricultural professionals would be weary.
As of September 29, however, new rules are set to go into effect that will remove the hassle of obtaining a UOC. This legislation will change the terminology from UAVs to remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), as well as introducing new weight classifications for RPA:
Most importantly, these changes will also remove the UOC requirement for very small RPA, as well as for small RPA on private land for commercial purposes so long as the operator is not being paid for the work. This effectively means that farmers can use RPA in a number of cases without putting in the time and money for a UOC.
With these new regulations, RPA operators must still follow certain rules for flight:
These new regulations will open up exciting new possibilities for farmers.