Case Study: Drone Mapping for Improved Drainage

January 29, 2018

James Markotich is a third generation farmer and grows 70 ha of cane in the Green Hill area near Gordonvale. He’s using innovation funding to develop aerial mapping of his property and take the guess work out of some of his farming practices.

He hopes it will assist him with reformation of blocks to improve drainage and erosion control.

As part of Terrain’s innovation strategy, our Regional Landcare Facilitator organised an agricultural "speed dating" event in mid-2016 which helped link technical advisors with farmers who wanted to get a good idea off the ground. It included a $1000 subsidy from Terrain. Terrain is able to support this work thanks to the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.

James engaged Alistair Hart of Mangoesmapping to assist with drone mapping. James says it’s amazing too see the technology that has developed since his grandfather’s day, when the land was hand cleared.

“I wanted technology to make farming more precise, and therefore more viable for me. Everybody’s landscape and circumstances are different. I love farming, but it’s important that I adapt it to what suits me and my finances, and needs.”

Mangoesmapping use drones to acquire aerial data that can be processed and turned into useful information, such as scenic imagery, high-resolution digital aerial imagery, pest and weed monitoring, 3D terrain and surface water flow-path modelling and precision horticulture.

In James’s case, he wanted the data so he could get a better idea of water flows on his property. Water flow not only has an impact on erosion, but on cane yield. The current drainage lines mean that some part of his cane block receive too much water, and other parts not enough.

“From so many years on the farm you’ve got a pretty good idea of how the water flows and where heavy erosion is happening, but technology takes it to a whole new level. After the data is processed you can see the drainage flow paths to 10cm accuracy and 25cm contours. Ideally I’d like to contour fallow blocks in a way that the water gets out,” said James.

Alistair explains that this level of accuracy is gained by using drones in conjunction with RTK GNSS mapping devices.

“The spatial accuracy of the drone data is improved from 2-10 metres down to just 5cm horizontally and 10cm vertically".

“This allows us to model the shape of the land and the behaviour of storm water runoff very precisely. Having this information allows farmers to better manage their land and design interventions to maintain productivity and prevent sediment loss,” Alistair said.

As part of this project Mangoesmapping also provided James with some GIS mapping software and training, so James can get the most out of the information and improve the long term management of his property.

James said, “There’s a lot of moving parts to this kind of mapping, and the technology is expensive. I’ve got to watch every dollar, so the money from Terrain’s innovation fund was a big help.”


Aerial image of cane fields and drainage line

Aerial image of cane fields and drainage line

Digital terrain model and 25cm contours, detailing landform along the drainage line

Digital terrain model and 25cm contours, detailing landform along the drainage line

Flow path accumulation model, overlaid on digital aerial imagery

Flow path accumulation model, overlaid on digital aerial imagery