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Drone trial could cut herbicide use

A trial of drone technology sponsored by Southern Water is helping farmers target pesticides only where they are needed – cutting costs and protecting the environment.

A trial of drone technology sponsored by Southern Water is helping farmers target pesticides only where they are needed – cutting costs and protecting the environment.

Ten arable farmers in Kent and West Sussex have been trialling the Skippy Scout system with expert guidance provided by the team at Drone Ag. Assessing the practicality of using the system to locate weeds and target herbicide applications.

Barney Tremaine, Farm Manager for Cowdray Home Farms, is participating alongside agronomist, Stephen Woodley.  Stephen said “The integration of Skippy Scout into crop agronomy has allowed areas of poor establishment to be identified, mapped, and recorded into a farm management software. This has allowed us to explore targeted herbicide applications (propyzamide on OSR), reducing cost, environmental risk and leaving the opportunity for spring cropping in failed areas”.

The trial started this year in two river catchments, where propyzamide and other herbicides are detected in raw water monitoring.

Zoë Fothergill, Senior Catchment Management Officer at Southern Water said “The drone trial is already providing positive feedback from Western Rother farmers and their agronomists, who’ve used Skippy Scout, to support cropping decisions and inform spray operations. The mapping has also been useful in comparing different break crops, supporting a more diverse rotation”. Crop rotation protects soil health and improves yields.

This is part of a wider scheme run by Southern Water, working with farmers to raise awareness of herbicide losses and improve the quality of drinking water sources. Funding projects to show the benefits of precision farming and cultural measures, such as cover crops and herbal leys to get on top of grass weeds.

Tom Ormesher, Catchment Delivery Manager for Southern Water, said “Working with farmers is crucial for us - we’ve a shared interest in seeing healthy crops and soils to protect the quality of our drinking water. This kind of work can cut chemical run off into rivers and save farmers money.”

The holy grail for the Skippy Scout project is to see whether it’s possible to reduce the amount of pre-emergent herbicides applied by monitoring crops and weeds over a few years. The project is in the first of three years and more data will be needed, but the signs are promising.