Precision Weed Management

An El Arish cane farmer is taking the weed war to the sky, using drones to target pest plants on his property.

Dick Camilleri has been farming since he was 14 years old and said it was a steep learning curve to venture into drone technology in his 70s – but a precision weed management trial on his property had proven extremely worthwhile.

His project targeted red convolvulus vine.   See below for full story.

Sugar industry stalwart Dick Camilleri worked with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Marcus Bulstrode on his project.

Red convolvulus vine has been a problem in cane crops for decades. It produces seeds annually and controlling it involves repeated use of herbicides. At its worst it can cause lodging of cane crops and harvesting problems.

“When this vine gets out of control it will choke out the cane and can actually stop the harvester so it is imperative we have control of it,” Dick says.

A drone was used to capture high definition footage of the weed in his cane crop.

A high-rise spray rig had sprayed the crop with a range of herbicides several weeks earlier.

Global positioning system, or GPS, reference points were taken of any weed that remained in the paddock.

“We found a bit here, a bit there,’’ Dick says.

A small spray tank could then be used to target the pest plant. There is also the ability to fly drones for the targeted spraying stage.

“Ideally, if a group of farmers get together and buy this equipment and eliminate the seed cycle, it would be just a matter of flying over with the drone to film and then targeting that zone from the air with the herbicide” Dick says.

“This precision agriculture is financially beneficial. There are also potential water quality improvement outcomes using reduced rates of chemical and less run off from the paddock into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.”

Marcus Bulstrode describes the process as a big development for farmers.

“The technology allows you to put herbicide specifically on the plant you are trying to control, leading to much reduced amounts of herbicide which are applied exactly where they need to go,’’ he says.

The trial is the result of the Reef Rescue Innovation Funding program, funded by the Australian Government and delivered by Terrain NRM.

The program helps growers to develop their ideas through on-farm trial projects. It also helps them to link with technical advice, identify and overcome barriers to developing innovations and bring proven ideas into the mainstream. The aim is to improve water quality to the Great Barrier Reef.