XAG works with drone entrepreneurs from Queensland to provide autonomous spraying solutions for the difficult-to-access field areas of horticulture crops
Observing an increasingly growing demand of unmanned device applications during Australia’s winter cropping season, Chinese drone manufacturer XAG says it’s on track to deploy drones to help farmers take the pressure off chemical use and preserve water.
Faced with the expanded size of sown areas in Australia, XAG works with millennial drone entrepreneurs from Queensland to provide autonomous spraying solutions for the difficult-to-access field areas of horticulture crops, including macadamia, strawberry, and potato, while spreading seeds to restore the overgrazed pasture in response to climate change.
After three years of intense drought and months of bushfire devastation that badly battered the continent, Australia now speeds up its recovery gazing into a long-awaited bumper harvest. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) has forecast the winter crop yield to be 44.5 million tonnes in 2020–21, which is 11 percent above the average annual level of the past ten years. This is owing to the favourable weather conditions such as rain beginning to fall steadily and the soil developing a good moisture profile.
XAG Australia is closely working with Jamin Fleming from Oztech Drones in Bundaberg, south-east Queensland to provide aerial treatment for pests, weeds, and crop diseases. Since July, Fleming has been collaborating with local fruit growers, such as Redrock and Suncoast Gold Macadamias, on a series of trials to apply fungicides and fertilisers on macadamia trees with XAG’s agricultural drones.
Fleming shed light on how drones facilitate precision agriculture. “We first mapped an area of the farm out using the XMission survey drone and found the trees that were lacking in health. Then, we sent the crop protection drone just to spray those specific trees rather than the entire crops as normal spray rigs would do.”
We found the spraying drone can spiral over larger trees with better coverage of the whole canopy
With this fully autonomous drone, farmers can even target at individual plants and skip the spacing between trees. “We found the spraying drone can spiral over larger trees with better coverage of the whole canopy. Also, you can pre-program the drone to conduct hover spray over the smaller trees, which is more efficient,” he said.
According to XAG, results from the trial phase also showed that droplets were broken down into tiny particles of different sizes that could reach the lower foliar of the macadamia trees. This is to help macadamia growers prioritise the protection of water, minimise pesticide usage from traditional techniques, and eliminate possible chemical drifts.
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As a fledgling drone entrepreneur, Fleming’s business has really taken off to accumulate field experience on a wide variety of crops, including grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Fleming said drones can flex their muscles over complicated terrains, where large manned machinery such as tractors or helicopters find it difficult to handle the operation. He has just contracted to one of the largest sweet potato growers in Australia, managing invasive weeds with XAG drones in all their channels, hard-to-reach areas and around the dams.
“We also help them with controlling weeds around water hydrants in the middle of fields. In one field, there could be 50 hydrants which a tractor used to drive through damaging the crop to get to these hydrants. Now using the XMission drone we can survey the entire field, find the hydrants, and send the spray drone out to only target the hydrant,” he said.
According to Fleming, the wet winter makes disease management on waterlogged areas after rain difficult for farmers. Eyes on the issue, Fleming has started working with fruit growers on strawberries.
“Some of their fields have low areas in them which after rain or excess watering are inaccessible by tractor. And therefore, pesticides and fungicides cannot be applied leaving the strawberry plants prone to diseases and pests. We come in and identify the low areas and then spray them all with applications recommended by the agronomist.”
Demand for pasture seeding is growing in Australia, now added onto Fleming’s long list of pilot jobs. The modular design of XAG spray drone allows it to switch into a “flying spreader” within minutes when embarked on a custom spreading attachment.
“Depending on application rate, we can seed up to 15 hectares an hour. Now hopefully we get some more rain at the end of the week to help it sprout,” he said.