Drones could help count live­stock

Narrogin Observer - - Front Page - Rueben Hale

Darkan farm man­age­ment con­sul­tant An­drew Ritchie is work­ing on a pro­to­type pas­ture pre­dic­tion sys­tem that could one day even count live­stock.

Mr Ritchie said he was only months away from launch­ing a drone fit­ted with a high-tech imag­ing cam­era ca­pa­ble of pre­dict­ing pas­ture growth early in the sea­son.

The drone plat­form will carry the small­est and light­est Sen­tera NDVI cam­eras avail­able, which will de­liver real-time in­sights into the health of a pas­ture.

Mr Ritchie’s pro­gram col­lects images by field and year, tiles them into com­plete maps cor­re­lated with data from other sources such as Pas­tures from Space and hand­held tech­nol­ogy.

“I will be able to make ap­prox­i­ma­tions of pas­ture pro­duc­tion us­ing al­go­rith­mic mod­els, which I have al­ready made,” he said.

“The big ad­van­tage will be that farm­ers will be able to ac­cess pre­dic­tive data much ear­lier in the sea­son than they can at the mo­ment, which can as­sist them in mak­ing more in­formed choices.

“I hope that by the end of the year, I will be able to es­ti­mate dry mat­ter pro­duc­tion in a pad­dock with it.” Mr Ritchie said farm­ers tra­di­tion­ally mea­sured pas­tures by eye, which was a te­dious process.

“The pro­ce­dure in­volves us­ing a cal­i­bra­tion process in­volv­ing cut­ting quadrats, which is why most peo­ple don’t do it,” he said.

“The Pas­tures from Space pro­gram is an­other way of do­ing it, but it comes with lim­i­ta­tions of large pix­els at the mo­ment and is some­times un­re­li­able when it is cloudy.

“This sys­tem will also give very quick and pre­cise real-time grasses pro­duc­tion up­dates.”

Mr Ritchie said the sys­tem’s abil­ity to count stock was a pipe­line dream.

“When you look at sheep from the air, they look like cells in a Petri dish, and they use im­age anal­y­sis to count the cells,” he said.

“The prob­lem is for the sheep in­dus­try, young peo­ple are look­ing around for new tech­nol­ogy but noth­ing much new has hap­pened.

“My vi­sion is to put the drone into the sky that will cap­ture im­agery of the sheep, and I am work­ing on soft­ware at the mo­ment to op­er­ate it.

“This will de­liver more ac­cu­rate, more re­peat­able stock counts, which is a very time con­sum­ing and dif­fi­cult thing for farm­ers to do at the mo­ment.”

Pic­ture: Rueben Hale

Darkan sheep farmer An­drew Ritchie has plans to one day mon­i­tor his graz­ing sheep re­motely by us­ing a drone fit­ted with a high-tech pre­ci­sion cam­era de­vice.

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