Drones on farms

Cow drone

In this post I discuss solutions to New Zealand’s nitrogen pollution issue.

While I was at Gather yesterday I had two more ideas.

1. Barking Drones
Drones can already herd sheep. I’m sure if they barked they could herd cows. Moving cow campsites every night would distribute the Critical Source Areas (CSAs) and have a significant impact. A really smart drone might even be able to move an individual cow three meters south east to avoid an existing urine patch or move them mid-event!

2. Top-dressing Drones
Instead of one large chemical dump, drones could be used to distribute tiny payloads to targeted sites. They could be solar powered and use the internet to predict rainfall.

There is no reason the same drone could not do both jobs. They would both build a map of nitrogen distribution over time… smart farming.

With rotational grazing on Dairy farms the campsites are less of an issues. So braking drones would be best used in Beef farms or run off areas (dry stock).

I did the math on using a splash drone (all weather) for fertiliser application:

Splash Drone $2,200. 45kph, 35min to charge, 17min flight time, Max wind speed 40 kmph, Lift 1kg.
I will assume 1 minute to get payload.
45kmph speed for 15mins = 11.25km travelled.
The average NZ Dairy farm is 150ha. 1 ha = 200m return flight.
The done needs to be able to fly 150*200 30,000m or 30km
So the drone either needs to be in the middle of the farm, carry more battery and less payload or the farm needs two drones.
Equip farm with sensors so drone can fly 24hrs by itself.
35min charge + 20 minute run + refuelling = 26 trips per day or 26kg per day, 9,490kg PA.
94 kg N/ha/yr = 14,100 kg PA.

So you would need 1.3 drone stations on the average farm, but the hope is that with regular and targeted applications volume can drop dramatically. It would require a very large solar array, maybe a 20K system with big batteries if you are flying at night.