New rules for drone use create opportunity for industry

Drones are becoming cheaper, more accessible and more user friendly. Combined with a camera they provide a means of capturing imagery which in the past was only accessible through overhead aerial photography. This was and still is expensive and outside the realm of the majority of small to medium businesses. Drone use was also restricted from a legal perspective. However the recently released new rules around drone use, decreasing cost and increasing accessibility opens up opportunity for the industry.

This article is going to consider some of the potential uses of drones within a production nursery business both now and into the near future.

The Legalities

The operation of aircraft, including drones, is governed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Last year the regulations around drone use were modified which allowed a number of exemptions two of which are applicable to the nursery industry.

The first exemption focused on the use of very small drones (<2kg) for commercial use. Under this exemption users can pilot a drone without a license; however they must notify CASA 5 days prior to their first commercial flight (with renewal notifications every 2 years) and adhere to standard operating procedures. The standard operating procedures restrict the use of drones near airports, populated areas and near emergency situations (e.g. bushfires), and limits the operating height to 120m.

The second exemption created a category of drones allowing private landowners to carry out some commercial-like operations on their own land. Under this exemption, small drones (2<25kg) can be used on private land for limited commercial use for example aerial spotting, photography, spraying and carrying cargo. Under this exemption small drone operators do not need a Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) operator’s certificate or a remote pilot license (RePL).Users must notify CASA 5 days prior to their first flight (with renewal notifications every 2 years) and adhere to standard operating procedures.

This exemption also permits the use of medium sized (25-150kg) drones operating on private land. As with the small drone exemption this does not require an RPA operator’s certificate however the operator will require a remote pilot license (RePL).

The changes to the regulations around drone use now open up a number of opportunities for industry and make some uses for drones viable.

Further information on the use and categories of drone operation should be sought from CASA prior to incorporating drone use in your business.

Drones and Marketing

Drones are increasingly being used within the real estate industry as to showcase the size and scale of properties, supporting the marketing initiatives to assist in the sale of the property.

The same use of a drone can be considered to help in building the brand and marketing of a production nursery. This can be achieved by demonstrating the scale of the business, its range of facilities as well as the diversity of plant material being grown. Given the seasonality of the industry there is also considerable scope to showcase the changing seasons and evolving plant material through regular updates.

Drones and Crop/Property Surveillance and Pest Scouting

Although not replacing a dedicated on ground scouting procedure, a drone can be a useful addition in aiding crop and property surveillance activity on the nursery. The use of a drone enables the user to obtain a different perspective or vantage point to view the crop more holistically as opposed to parts of the crop at eye level. With a different vantage point, disease expression or pest symptoms may be more readily viewed compared to the rest of the crop for example as a localised ‘hot spot’ of symptoms with the crop.

Weed surveillance can also be assisted with the use of drones, especially in areas which have difficult access and, again, not replacing on ground inspection it can be a useful tool in-between on ground inspection. This same approach can be used for routine inspections of fence lines or potentially irrigation lines if they are above ground.

Related Articles

CASA Develops new rules for drone aviation - ABC Rural

New rules for drones (USA) - Nursery Management magazine