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Meet Russell Welsh's new friend – a drone

Usually, if farmers want to keep an eye on their farm, they have to get out in the field. But Southland sheep farmer Russell Welsh is experimenting with a drone watching over his paddocks.

Russell has been hearing a lot of hype around drones and their relevance to modern farming.

Just before the lambing season this year, Russell thought he would try it out – checking on the ewes and lambs during this critical period.

“My property is really wet under foot this year and with covers low I cannot afford to be driving into my lambing paddocks unnecessarily,” Russell told AbacusBio consultants Bram Visser and Nadia McLean.

Russell enlisted the expertise of Bram and Nadia to explore various applications that a drone might have for his sheep farm.

They also looked at which model was best suited for Russell’s situation.

The intuitive design of the Phantom 3 makes it fun and easy to fly – with complete control and advanced features to ensure a safe, stable flight session.

“It was really easy to set up – considering that the Phantom 3 we got was an advanced model – all we had to do was give it a full battery charge, download an iPad application, and start flying!” Nadia remarks.

“Because Russell was a first time user, we switched on the beginner mode,” Bram says.

The beginner-mode is touted with sophisticated features that enable Russell to fly it within a safe distance and altitude, and protecting the drone – by making it automatically stay inside his desired limits.

There is also a handy “auto-return home” button right in the middle of the remote controller. “When you need it, the drone automatically lands at where it first took off , which is a real confidence booster for inexperienced flyers,” Bram says.

Russell says he uses a control stick to control the drone, and was able to take photos and watch live videos straightaway on his iPad.

The drone streams live video with 720p high-definition to the iPad, which allows Russell to have absolute clarity on what the camera sees from the air – from any direction.

Images and video footage are automatically stored in a micro SD memory card, which allows instant access and playback at a later stage.

A neat feature is the ability to easily access the recorded images and videos across various devices such as the iPad, computers, and television.

“This kind of technology saves time and offers convenience to farmers – without the need to go out on-field. A bird’s eye view of stock also allows Russell to spot any problems he needs to go deal with,” Nadia explains.

For larger farms particularly with fewer managers and personnel, drones save a great deal of time and help get things done, more accurately and efficiently.

“It is really something farmers have to experience for themselves; we expect huge benefits for farmers who can master this new technology.”

Drones are a relatively new and increasingly popular tool in the agricultural industry.

Bram predicts that drones will be a common sight five years from now.

For now, Russell is enjoying his bird’s eye view of his sheep farm – and thinking about all the possibilities his Phantom 3 can offer.

Three weeks after Russell’s first flight, he had clocked over 6 hours flight time and flown 60 missions on his farm.

“I wouldn’t dare to call him inexperienced now,” Bram says with a laugh.

“In about ten minutes I can check a few paddocks – before I’ve had breakfast. Most of the time there’s nothing wrong, but now I know without having to sit in the truck for an hour. It’s great for peace of mind,” Russell says.

“For the relatively low investment of $3.5K for the whole setup, it’s an impressive wee unit.”

To find out more about investing or exploring potential applications of drone technology in your farming business, contact the office at 03 477 6375 for a chat with Bram or Nadia.