Drones have become the latest buzz in agriculture or smart farming, with a growing number of farmers using them to keep an eye on their crops and fields. Yet, many Australian farmers aren’t taking full advantage of the benefits they offer.

The University of Southern Queensland, in partnership with Land Solution Australia, is helping farmers learn how to use drones to map and monitor their crops more effectively using aerial images and data analytics. Dr Zahra Gharineiat, a senior lecturer in surveying and researcher at the University of Southern Queensland, said drone mapping could help farmers make informed decisions about crop management.

“Using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to map fields helps remove the guesswork when it comes to assessing crop health, monitoring crop growth rates and even spotting disease or other crop issues,” Dr Gharineiat said. “They provide timely and accurate data collection, which can help farmers better address and respond to crop stress, manage labour costs, significantly increase yield and document crop losses for insurance purposes.”

While the cost and time-saving benefits of using drones to monitor and manage crops are becoming widely known, Dr Gharineiat said the biggest hurdle for farmers was knowing how to process and analyse the data. “Most of the farmers I have spoken to say they are keen to use the technology, but lack the knowledge and technical skills to process the images taken by the drone and convert them into maps,” she said.

To help overcome this problem, Dr Gharineiat and Dr Jun Wang, a data scientist at the University of Southern Queensland, helped develop a new cost-effective, easy-to-use data processing platform. The cloud-based service allows farmers to upload their aerial images and automatically create precise maps of their crops. “Some farmers pay thousands of dollars to get someone to come out and perform an aerial survey of their property, but imagine the amount of money they would save if they purchased their own drone and were able to do the same job as often as they liked,” Dr Gharineiat said.

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