Sky-High Farming: Drones Revolutionize Aussie Agriculture

Despite their higher cost compared to traditional methods, drone spraying services are rapidly gaining traction worldwide, driven by their significant advantages. The potential of drone technology to revolutionize agricultural spraying practices is increasingly recognized, and Diversity Drone Spraying, based in Western Australia and owned by Tjaart Du Plessis, exemplifies this trend.

Tjaart Du Plessis, alongside his son, ventured into this niche market due to limited competition in their region and his agricultural background. “I started in this market because there is not a lot of competition here, in this part of Western Australia,” he explains. “And it interested me because I come from a farm, grow vegetables, and I live in the Wheatbelt region.” Using a DJI T40 spray drone and DJI multispectral imaging for producing prescription maps for spot spraying, Diversity Drone Spraying is active on broadacre farms, paddocks, vineyards, and orchards.

Drone spraying does come with higher initial costs. In Australia, it costs around 34 AUD per hectare (roughly $13.75 per acre), compared to 11 AUD ($4.45 per acre) for conventional methods. However, Tjaart emphasizes the numerous advantages. “You don’t have the soil compaction. And when it is wet, farmers won’t get bogged in the field. Spot spraying is also very effective with a drone. I received a lot of positive feedback on my spot spraying. Farmers are saving money there. And a drone also ensures precise and uniform distribution of pesticides, fertilizers, and nutrients, reducing waste.”

Another key benefit is safety. “You’re not even coming close to the spray, so there is minimal exposure to chemicals. In vineyards, drone spraying is a lot safer than quad bike spraying for example,” Tjaart adds. Additionally, drone spraying reduces chemical runoff and promotes responsible farming practices. “With a drone, it is easy to change your droplet size and minimize drift. We recently were spraying in a mango farm near Perth. We did the job in half the time, it was very effective, and we saved a lot of water there as well. But drone spraying is new in this region, and it is going to take time to take off.”

Despite its infancy in regions like the U.S. compared to countries like China, Japan, and South Korea, drone spraying shows promising potential. The U.S. agriculture drone market size is projected to reach $1,758.4 million by 2030, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 22.8% from 2023 to 2030. Rantizo, the largest drone spraying network in the U.S., sprayed nearly 200,000 acres in 2023. The company continues to expand with the establishment of local hubs and a nationwide network of drone operators, serving growers and retailers across 30 states.

According to Mariah Scott, CEO of Rantizo, the demand for drone services exceeds supply by a significant margin. “Drones are particularly effective in areas with obstacles like trees, waterways, buildings, or irregular shapes, allowing for precise application,” Scott noted. Zach Hanner, Trial Manager at Rantizo, highlighted that pricing varies depending on local market dynamics, cropping systems, and competitive equipment and methods, with row crop spraying ranging from $15 to $30 per acre.

Research at institutions like Auburn University is also exploring the optimal uses of drones for pesticide and farm chemical applications. Steve Li, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences at Auburn University, is evaluating the application efficacy of spray drones versus conventional methods such as airplanes and ground sprayers. Li notes that drones offer several advantages over traditional methods, including the ability to spray crops when fields are too wet after rains, better handling of small or irregularly shaped fields, and reduced fuel usage.

Li’s research underscores the potential of drone technology to revolutionize agricultural spraying practices in the U.S., offering efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and environmental benefits across various farming operations.

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