An innovative technology which uses specialised cameras mounted on drones could revolutionise the agricultural industry by identifying problems with crops before the naked eye can see them, potentially saving farmers millions of dollars.
The technology has been developed by FluroSat, a start-up company backed by Telstra’s muru-D program, which provides mentoring and investment to early-stage technology companies.
FluroSat uses multispectral and hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones and satellites to look at crop health and identify the individual stressors that may be limiting the performance of the crops.
The technology combines state-of-the-art remote sensing technology and sophisticated analysis techniques to collate data which would then be passed on to the agronomist and farmer to help them address a problem immediately.
FluroSat co-founder and CEO Anastasia Volkova said the cameras are “like an x-ray for crops”, allowing them to pick up problems before the human eye can see them.
“We can see nutrients in crops, outbreaks of diseases and are able to tease out those diseases that would be impossible to see with the naked eye just by walking through the field," she said.
“Imagine if in two years, no agronomist would be going out in 45 degrees, would be seeing everything on their computers and making decisions that are informed, timely and saving money for their clients.”
Early detection of crop issues such as nutrient deficiency, water and heat stress, weeds and diseases, means growers can act immediately, allowing them to grow high quality crops in a sustainable and efficient way.
The ultimate objective is to help farmers achieve greater yields due to early stress detection, saving on water, fertilisers and pesticides through variable rate application. This in turn would significantly increase profits.
“Some of the vital benefits of this technology are the savings on the inputs,” Ms Volkova said.
“They would apply less fertiliser, less chemical to extinguish the outbreak of disease that the hot-spot has been spotted in the specific place in the paddock.”
Testing of the technology began two weeks ago at the Australian Cotton Research Institute (ACRI) in Narrabri, where FluroSat is working with research officers to determine the optimum rate for yield of cotton in a variable nitrogen rate application trial.
ACRI crop nutrition research officer Tim Weaver said the technology has great potential.
“If they can be more proactive in picking up segments of a crop that is deficient, it’s a great benefit,” he said.
“If you can pick it up early and address the issue and the crop takes it up, the yield will rise; it’s all about yield and bottom dollar in the end.”
In the coming months, FluroSat will be carrying out field tests on cotton and other crops in Narrabri, Moree, Tamworth and Gunnedah.
“This valley is uniquely positioned to have a lot of early adopters of this technology,” Ms Volkova said.
“The cotton-growing valley, which is our primary focus of this technology at the moment, is the place to be and obviously the benefit to rural communities means a lot to us because it’s for their benefit that we want this technology to be developed.”