A New Buzz - Word

Drones—cultivating new solutions for farmers

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In agriculture, one of the biggest challenges facing farmers is overseeing the vast tracks of land that commercial crops or livestock require. The time and resources required to monitor perimeters, water sources, movement of livestock and crop growth are considerable, resulting in high labour and fuel costs and long hours.

Malcolm Osmond, Managing Director of CC&A Insurance brokers, who offer specialised commercial insurance, highlights an exciting solution. He says, “Farmers from various disciplines are turning to drones to lighten the load.”

When we think of drones, we very often think of sci-fi movies, high-level security or hobbyists.

However, drones are making a real impact into other key areas – notably, agriculture. How can these little airborne devices help the farmers on the ground, with real world problems?

Drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and come in a range of sizes with a range of capabilities; from a fast and nimble machine, perfect for capturing footage for the film industry, to a heavy duty option carrying products in the mining industry.

Malcolm Osmond adds, “Because we deal with the film industry as well as a cross-section of commercial clients, we have seen the impact that drones are making in business today.”

Saving time and money

Drones themselves come packed with features that have created solutions for farmers across the board. High-resolution cameras connected to a live feed can operate a fast and accurate patrol along kilometres of perimeter fencing – a task that would take hours of time, a great deal of fuel, and wear and tear on vehicles.

Data collection and crisis management

Some of the systems that now link to a drone are nothing short of amazing. For example, automated launches and preprogrammed flight routes can be set up to collect specific data and monitor a precise section of land or water source on a daily basis. This data is valuable to farmers whose livelihood depends on quick responses to potential crises. An aerial view of a dam, for example, along with daily data updates will assist the farmer in staying on top of his water situation – a valuable tool in times of water shortage.

Payload capacity

A significant feature affecting drone use has been the payload capacity. With the drones themselves becoming more powerful, the weight of the load that they are able to carry has increased.

A hardy and intuitive example can be found in the Agras MG–1 Octocopter.

The MG-1 can carry up to 10kg of liquids including pesticide and fertilizer. This effectively means that an area of 4000 – 6000 m² can be covered in a mere 10 minutes, which is 40 – 60 times faster than manual spraying. The MG-1 can be equipped with variable spray nozzles depending on the speed of the drone and the properties of the product being applied. The nozzles themselves have been cleverly positioned beneath the propellers, which creates an accelerated downward airflow, increasing the reach of the product. A feature sure to impress is the microwave radar linked to an intelligent flight control system. This means that the drone is able to maintain a constant, centimetre-accurate height above the crops that are being sprayed. As the terrain dips or rises the MG-1 maintains its relative height, resulting in the optimal amount of liquid being applied throughout.

“This system is currently the best the world has to offer in surveillance and agri multicopters,” says Mike Menzies of Smashtronics

An advanced system like this would be priced from R124 995.00 and is available online from Smashtronics. (http://smashtronics.co.za or +2783 463 8310)

“Drones present a significant investment in time and money for our farmers,” says Malcolm Osmond of CC&A Insurance. “Therefore, it’s vital to identify exactly what your needs are and what each product can offer.”

Security

Security has been a hot topic here in South Africa and drones are showing themselves to be a valuable addition to your security measures. Infrared or thermal cameras can be easily added to a drone and launched at any time of the day or night. An ideal option would be the Phantom 4. This intelligent drone offers obstacle avoidance which allows it to fly in hilly terrain without incident. Visual tracking allows you to lock onto a moving target and follow them – a valuable security tool indeed.

“We’ve had many farmers purchase our drones for counting stock and perimeter security,” says Hana from Drone World.

A Phantom 4 combo pack comes with a top quality camera, additional batteries, a long range signal booster, along with a number of other useful add-ons from R35 995.00 from Drone World. (www.droneworld.co.za or +2782 811 1928)

Insurance

While technology like this is exciting and incredibly useful, it also comes at a cost. A wise farmer will be sure to protect his assets and explore the best insurance possible for his equipment.

Good insurance should include cover of the drone and the payload, which can include advanced measuring equipment and cameras. Ground station equipment should also be covered as it would include costly items such as phones, tablets and computers. One would also consider public liability cover for personal or property damage as well as the payment of legal costs.

“Technology like this requires specialist insurance and international backing. CC&A Insurance were one of the first in South Africa to offer drone insurance. Our dedicated team and extensive research mean we are able to offer precise, tailored cover,” according to Malcolm Osmond.

South African law requires that a drone used for commercial purposes is flown by a licensed pilot, and CC&A makes a point of adhering to these regulations. In order to attain a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) license, the pilot would be required to obtain aviation training through an approved organisation. The applicant will need to be over 18 with clear medical assessments and have an English Language Proficiency of level 4 or higher. In addition, a practical assessment as well as a radiotelephony examination will be conducted. Applicants are approved through the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). All forms, fees and requirements can be found on their website at www.caa.co.za.

For more information or advice on insuring your commercial drones, contact CC&A Insurance brokers on +27 31 716 6000 (KZN) or +27 11 463 0085 (Gauteng) or visit http://ccainsurance.co.za

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