Drones deliver unique view on soil quality

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Cally DupeCountryman
DPIRD research officer Nick Wright with the soil erosion survey technology and a drone.
Camera IconDPIRD research officer Nick Wright with the soil erosion survey technology and a drone. Credit: Jon Gellweiler

Drones and software systems capable of assessing soil erosion from the sky will be on display at Newdegate Machinery Field Days next week.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development used drones to survey flood damage at Newdegate and Ravensthorpe in early 2017.

Department research officer Nick Wright used the aerial tool to take dozens of photographs in a uniform pattern across the eroded landscape.

He then stitched the images together and created a 3D model, and subtracted the model from an estimated pre-erosion surface to calculate the amount of soil lost at Ravensthorpe.

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It sounds complicated, but Mr Wright said the tool was relatively simple to use and could help farmers assess soil erosion across their land.

The soil erosion model.
Camera IconThe soil erosion model. Credit: DPIRD

He said traditional surveying methods and photography did not always result in accurate data.

“Traditionally, you get out there with a measuring tape and rulers and you are just measuring a few points,” he said.

“We are getting accuracy within 5cm.

“It is close enough to the point where farmers can run economic analysis to work out whether it is worth their while to restore these areas or whether we are better to fence it off.”

Mr Wright said the department would be using the technology in the future “to get a really good idea of the scale of the erosion”.

“From a farmers’ perspective, it is reasonably accessible for the average farmer,” he said.

“It’s something that people need to see for themselves to find out what is possible. You need to see it.”

The model, and a short film about it, will be on display at the department’s display at Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days this week and Newdegate Machinery Field Days next week.

Department grains and livestock manager Alison Lacey said soil erosion was a common problem in agricultural industries.

“This kind of innovation is vital — the use of available technologies was labour-efficient, accurate and applicable to other agriculture industries,” she said.

Mapping and land planning officers will also be on-hand to update visitors’ property contact details and those who do will go into a draw to win a free farm map.

Ms Lacey said the display would also include information on live-stock biosecurity and improving the efficiency and profitability of grain growers and livestock producers.

“The livestock biosecurity focus will be on traceability, with officers available to help producers with all aspects of traceability, including brands and National Livestock Identification System database transfers,” she said.

“Producers can pick up a handy common PICs card for sheep and cattle, which lists the property identification codes of saleyards and abattoirs.

“Footrot Control Program staff will also provide details about biosecurity practices that help prevent footrot occurring in their flocks and managing footrot, if it occurs.”

Biosecurity project manager Martin Atwell will have skeleton weed plants on display to help growers detect rosettes in the field from similar plants during winter.

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