The weed-mapping drone that goes the extra mile, slashing chemical use and saving money
The Single family have been farming their broadacre cropping property near Coonamble, in New South Wales, for close to 70 years and third generation farmer Ben Single says there has always been a special focus on the environment.
“My dad likes to say he was the first in the state doing zero till farming and he won quite a few awards, so we’re heavily into conservation production systems,” said Ben.
One of the key areas of attention in the past 30 years for Ben and his father, John, has been trialling different products and machinery to minimise the use of chemicals on weeds in fallow situations.
“We just didn’t like the available equipment – we are end-users ourselves – and we saw an opportunity to make it better.”
With Ben’s mechanical and aerospace engineering qualifications, his father’s on-farm experience and his brother Tony’s cropping expertise, the Singles developed Single Shot, a drone which is custom-fitted with a sensor and specially designed software to map the land and geolocate weeds as little as 4cm in size in fallow situations.
Ben says the green-on-brown identification is done before spraying, which allows a spraying map to be developed and inputted into the spraying machinery. “In other words, it tells you what to spray before you head into the field,” said Ben.
“The drone is also capable of mapping larger areas than other systems on the market. Other products might do 40 or 50 hectares in a day where we can do 1500 hectares in that time.”
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A product ripe for investment
Ben says with Single Shot being market-ready and commercially viable the next step in the product’s evolution is to seek out investors to help reduce manufacturing costs and establish distribution and retail networks, and this is what drew him to the AgriFutures growAG. platform. The investment opportunity could also include partnerships, equity in Single Shot or assistance with research and development.
The drone, which is purchased off-the-shelf, is modified for reliability and fitted with additional radio transmitters. Single Shot then installs the sensor, hardware and software.
Mr Single says the strength of the technology lies in its proprietary software, which completes all processing on a laptop in the field rather than requiring an internet connection to transmit data elsewhere – a hurdle which can be limiting for farming operations, even those with good connectivity.
“We generate about two terabytes of data in a day,” he said.
“Even if you’ve got a full speed NBN connection, it can take about a week to upload a day’s data. The way Single Shot do our detections and geolocations involves a completely different methodology which is all built into our sensor.
“We plug the drone’s data into a laptop which has our software on it, select the flights to process, and you walk away with processing taking the same time as flying. It involves very little work. The software creates a shapefile - or a prescription file depending on what system you are working with - and you put that into the display of your sprayer and away you go.”
Cost saving for farmers
The result is a selective spraying of weeds that reduces the amount of chemicals used compared to blanket spraying. The more expensive the chemical, the greater the cost-saving.
"Farmers in broadacre are running into chemical resistance on a larger and larger scale with multiple chemicals beginning not to work,” said Ben.
“There are quite a few chemicals you can use to kill weeds that are chemical resistant but a lot of them are very expensive, so you can’t use them on a commercial level.
“Single Shot allows you to selectively target weeds and carries vast environmental benefits as the alternative is increased tillage which is poor for soil health. The additional diesel required to do this is also problematic in terms of both input costs and emissions.
“Our product has been designed from the ground up to be cheaper to buy and cheaper to operate. It also detects weeds more reliably than comparable sprayer mounted systems.”
The Single Shot technology is currently being used on several broadacre farms in Queensland and New South Wales and the company is preparing for the first trial in the United States.
Commercial use of Single Shot
Agronomist Jordan Billsborough says he’s been using the Single Shot drone mapping technology on a mixed dryland and irrigation farm near Goondiwindi, in Queensland, for more than a year and the accuracy of the weed targeting has been “exceptional”.
“Single Shot has allowed us to conduct spot spraying capabilities with a single self-propelled spray rig, saving money on equipment and chemical,” Mr Billsborough said.
“The advantages we have found with this system, as opposed to equivalents on the market, are the ease of use of the technology and processing equipment from start to finish.
“The processing of flight data locally results in a quick turnaround time from flight to spraying.”
Funding for further research and development is also sought to develop Single Shot’s ability to detect weeds in crops – so-called green-on-green detection.
“The big-ticket item is green-on-green, and we are working towards that,” said Ben.
“It would greatly expand the opportunities and useability of the system because you can start operating within crops and on areas outside of agricultural farming.
“For example, if you’re looking for noxious weeds in national parks you could partner our technology with a spraying drone and go from point to point. That opens up a whole range of opportunities even back in the farming environment but especially in areas that are difficult to access like national parks.”
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