Cereals: The Arable Event

Harper Adams University investigates new uses for drones in agriculture

01-Mar-2017 National Centre for Precision Farming

Drones are already being used in agriculture to monitor and map fields and crops, but at Harper Adams University research is underway to look into the viability of using drones to complete tasks in the field, such as seeding and spraying.


The research is being carried out by the university’s Engineering Research team who are focusing on the practicality of using drones as a Precision Farming implement.


These drone systems can weigh up to 20 kilograms, and are designed to operate just above the crop. 


They are being designed to do important tasks that are not economically viable using conventional methods and in locations where traditional equipment could not be used.


Jonathan Gill, of the National Centre for Precision Farming (NCPF), based at Harper Adams, said: “The next generation of drone systems able to carry our precision applications is developing rapidly. Farmers will be able to exploit the capabilities of drone systems to access their fields more easily and carry out crop management tasks cost effectively.”


The university, which will be in the Drone Zone at this year’s Cereals event, has an established Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Special Interest Group, chaired by Mr Gill, who come together to develop and promote all aspects of UAS technology, thereby increasing the application of drone systems in agriculture.


Currently, legislation does not allow the application of chemicals by a drone.

Mr Gill and colleague Debbie Heeks are working with organisations and agencies to determine ways to affect changes to permit greater use of drones in agriculture, with safety in mind at all times.


Mr Gill said “We are looking at a number of factors which need to be addressed before legislation and drone technology is harmonised.”


Last year, the team worked on a project with a local RAF base conducting the first visibility test involving an agricultural drone and helicopter.


Mr Gill, who is also a qualified drone pilot, said: “We were asked to find ways to increase the visibility of drones to other airspace users. This gave us the opportunity to design innovative visibility devices and evaluate them in a live test environment”.


Feedback from the helicopter pilot and co-pilot highlighted the challenges the research team are trying to overcome.  They commented: “This flight demonstrated how busy we can be in the cockpit, looking out for other aircraft, avoiding pylons, trees and buildings, looking out for livestock and horse riders, listening and talking on the radio, as well as concentrating on the task in hand. So trying to spot drones, which also operate at low level, is yet another distraction. It was a very productive day and we’re glad we were able to play our part.”


Harper Adams hosts an annual Drones for Farming conference bringing together farmers, drone pilots and academics. The event includes a variety of demonstrations of drone systems along with lectures being delivered by academics, practitioners, agronomists and farmers.


Lee Williams, Business Development Officer for the National Centre for Precision Farming, said: “The 2016 event was very busy, with over 100 delegates. Presentations covered a range of topics including new drone rules and regulations affecting farmers, use of drones in agriculture by academics, farmers and drone service companies working in agriculture.


“The overall impression given by the speakers is that agricultural drones and the software required for generating application maps have come of age. Many of the technology related issues described at last year’s event have been solved. Several new commercial applications were presented which clearly demonstrated the potential of drones for farmers.”


Mr Gill added: “In the last year, it's been amazing to see a further acceleration in the development of Precision Farming drone systems.”


For further information about Precision Farming drone systems please contact:

Jonathan Gill on (01952) 815182 or Debbie Heeks on (01952) 815184.



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