Landmark set to take off with drones

Jonathon Smith (left), Stratus Imaging, chats with Farmanco consultant Andrew Smith at last week's TECHSPO about the AeroShield drone spraying service using the XAG P30 drones

THE next step in drone technology was unveiled at last week's TECHSPO with aerial spray application showcased to the crowd.

Come next year, Landmark believes it will be in a position to launch a full service package that will involve contract spraying with the use of five large drones.

It has entered into a partnership with Chinese company, XAG, which already has 15,000 drones operating in China spraying crops.

Precision imaging company, Stratus Imaging, will operate the XAG P30 drones on behalf of Landmark.

Landmark business development manager Glenn McTaggart said the contracting service would be called AeroShield and involve the drones operating in a swarm formation.

"Initially we will be focusing on smaller, intensive crops and we are doing trial work with growers as we speak," Mr McTaggart said.

"Later on we will do some trials of spot spraying of late radish in cereal crops to see how it goes in a broadacre environment."

Mr McTaggart said they would establish hubs in the South West first to service the horticulture, viticulture and forestry sectors and then establish hubs in the Wheatbelt over time.

"We held some field demonstrations in October last year and there was a good response to those with about 150-200 people attending," he said.

"We are finalising the service package and hope to launch it in March 2020 and clients will be able to book the service through Landmark branches and outlets."

Stratus Imaging's Jonathon Smith said aerial application had been worked on for quite a while but the viability of using a drone had not been proven until now.

"We just recently became certified to be able to have five drones in the air with the one pilot and so we can run our drones in a swarm formation," Mr Smith said.

"What that means is we can carry 75 litres of liquid in total, with redundancy, and so it gives us the ability to cover areas in a timely manner.

"We have carried out quite a bit of testing of the process and we will continue to do that.

"The horticulture, viticulture and forestry sectors are being targeted first and we are also speaking to government departments and councils about the services we can offer to them."

Mr Smith said the drones could be used for a variety of uses such as mosquito control and pesticide and herbicide application.

"The drones will give you the ability to spray crops where you want to avoid compaction or over waterlogged areas where you can't get machinery onto," he said.

"They can be set up to do spot spraying and blanket spraying and if you are blanket spraying we can program them to miss certain areas such as dams and so on so you are not wasting spray and you can also change the rate of application mid-flight as well."

To maximise efficiency, Mr Smith said the drones would fly until the liquid runs out and then when they land the batteries will be replaced at the same time.

"In terms of how long they can run, it really depends on the rate of application," he said.

"With five in the air carrying 15 litres per drone, then they could probably fly anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes."

Mr Smith said at this stage the range was about one kilometre, but again that depended on what the drones were being used for.

"In a broadacre environment we are not going to replace boomsprays because you will need them to cover large areas but this could definitely be a viable alternative to offer a more targeted solution," he said.

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