Drones: war and peace

15.09.18 04:26 PM
"As a commander of men in harm's way, you need the most accurate information possible and, that's the same for farmers and their crops." 

This article was first published in The Land on 29 April 2017, written by Pennie Scott. Read the full article here.

Tristan Steventon, a veteran of four deployments to Afghanistan, is using military technology to enable farmers to accumulate the most accurate information about their annual and perennial crops to assist in making the most informed decisions possible. "As a commander of men in harm's way, you need the most accurate information possible and, that's the same for farmers and their crops," Mr Steventon said.

Having deployed four times to Afghanistan, Tristan Steventon, formerly a Major in the Australian Army, understands the critical importance of accurate and timely information.

As a young boy he recalls watching a documentary about the agility and precision of military equipment in the first Gulf War and remembers being enthralled with the technology of the time.

“Unlike most people who start drone businesses, I am not a gadget guy, nor am I particularly enamoured by drones themselves. In fact, I don’t even get excited about the prospect of flying a drone but I am motivated by the information the multi-spectral cameras can collect while on the drones and how that data can be used for decision making and improving yield and productivity of paddocks, vineyards, cotton crops and horticulture enterprises,” he explained.

“Just as Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) transitioned from the military domain into mainstream and, specifically agriculture following the First Gulf War, similarly the sensors and technology associated with Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles (RPAS or drones), are being applied from the current conflict into many industry sectors.

“Having seen what is on offer in the military domain, we are still just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is possible in agriculture.”

Mr Steventon described how, in the military, decisions had to be made in complex and uncertain environments where all the information required to make a decision was not available, and the repercussions of poor decisions could be fatal.

This is where the layering of data into cohesive packages provided richer information but, ultimately, applying professional judgement (intuition, experience) created the final decision.

Similarly when assessing crops, the soils in which they are grown have variations including type, density (or absence) of minerals, extent and area of a soil type (e.g. terra rossa), moisture holding capacity and vegetation types and quantity.

The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is a simple graphical indicator that can be used to analyse remote sensing measurements, typically but not necessarily from a space platform, and assesses whether the target being observed contains live green vegetation or not.

StevTech has the capacity to layer all this information for farmers and agronomists so they have access to the complexity of information lying in their paddocks.

Mr Steventon says that his strength as a drone operator is in knowing the strengths and just as importantly, the limitations of drones. He says it is also 'handy to be partnered with my brother Anthony, a career farmer who has a doctorate in keeping it real which provides a great balance to the business.'

In March, StevTech won second price in the inaugural Agrihackathon held at CSU, Wagga Wagga. “I was planning to really start promoting the business in 2018 but people already are calling to use the services.”

Existing clients include dry land croppers, cotton growers, agronomists and vineyards. Given the wet conditions of 2016 there may need to be extra use of nitrogen as existing resources in the soil may have been leached. Once the mapping has been done, nitrogen can be applied exactly where it is needed and in the quantities required. 

Once the quantities are known, a variable rate nitrogen delivery map can be inserted into nitrogen spreading equipment (aerial or ground) to ensure it is done in the most timely, efficient and economical manner.

“Satellites have been useful however collecting data at all times isn’t possible due to periodic cloud cover and the timeliness and resolution of the images doesn't suit all agricultural enterprises. Flying under many types of cloud cover provides excellent images and the data is ready for immediate use,” Mr Steventon concluded.

#dataintodecisions #farmers #precisionagriculture #stevtech