Use of farm drones set to soar in east
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Every farm in East Anglia could be using drones to help them with a range of tasks from precision farming to barn roof repair in the next decade, an expert has predicted.
Ian Caley, who is in charge of AgriFly, a new wing of farmers’ co-operative Fram Farmers, expects the machines, which can carry different types of cameras to reveal problems not visible from the ground, to make a big impact on the industry in the next few years.
“I can see it really growing and potentially every farm in 10 years’ time will have one of these on their farm,” he said.
AgriFly, set up in October, aims to meet the demands of members interested in adopting or using drones on their farms.
It provides equipment and training, as well as a contract service which enables members to call upon the expertise of qualified operators such as Ian.
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“Effectively, members can ring in and say: ‘I have got 10 fields and a drainage problem.’ It’s sometimes very hard to get from a ground level view,” he said.
More than 20 farmers, representing about 10,000 acres of land, attended a demonstration day at Fram Farmers’ headquarters in Framlingham on March 17.
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“In the discussions between themselves it suddenly became apparent the uses they had not even thought of.
“One person was talking of flying one behind their fertiliser separator just to double check on the spread,” said Ian.
“Basically we talked about the cameras that are likely to be used in the future – infrared cameras and multispectral cameras which could identify specific areas of disease and weeds so it would assist in precision farming which people have been talking about for years.”
Identifying flooding problems, shepherding sheep, taking photos to advertise clay shoots and monitoring blackgrass infestations are just some of the uses the drones could be put to help farms run more efficiently or to promote diversifications.
“There was certainly a lot of interest and several of them are following up on wanting further demonstrations,” he said.
“If they just want a service then I would go out and record all the imagery for them because I’m qualified to do that.”
Rules permit farmers to fly the drones themselves – provided they stick to their own land.
But there are rules and regulations around their use, he said, and going on to other people’s land would require a remote pilot’s qualification.
“What I want to do is to ensure they have some basic training, even if they don’t need the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permissions, to ensure they are operating it safely and they are operating it within CAA regulations.
“Things like you are not allowed to fly at a height of more than 400ft or more than 500m from where you are standing or you are not allowed to fly basically out of sight.
“Those three parameters, even if they are flying on their own land, are well worth obeying.
“At the end of the day, what I’m trying to do is to get them operating safely and getting value from the tool they have purchased.”
Some adverse stories about drones have hit the headlines in recent months, including flying one next to a major airport, and it was important that farmers were aware of the dangers the kit could pose if wrongly used, he said.
With new drones now retailing at around £2,000, Ian believes they will become increasingly popular.
“It will be a tool they will have on the farm. The primary use I see is assisting in the precision agriculture and identifying weeds and pests,” he said.