Lamma 2016: Drones, gritters and high-tech kit hit the stands

While most of the kit arrayed across the Lamma showground is big, brightly coloured and made of mild steel, there were quite a few smaller, natty high-tech items for farmers looking for futuristic thrills.  

Several drones were on show, for a start.

These extraordinary items may have been around for a while but finding a good use for them in agriculture thus far has been proving tricky.

However the manufacturers are now sorting themselves out and coming up with kit that can do a job of work.

Ursula was one of the first makers to produce a viable drone for sensing crops, but several other makers were at the show too.

French maker Airinov, which was one of the first makers to get a commercial unit on to the market, was there too.

There was even a giant octocopter that can carry a payload of slug pellets or rapeseed and spray bracken.        

Prodata rain gauge

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Prodata weather kit gets high-tech 

Electronic weather stations may have been around for many years but new technology is coming along to make life easier for farmers.

According to Cambridgeshire weather kit specialist Prodata, the traditional anemometer and tipping rain sensor most farmers have outside the farm office are beginning to be replaced by high-tech, no-moving-parts versions.

See also: Cereals 2015: Time to map blackgrass with a drone is now

Hampshire firm Gill offers optical rain-sensors, for instance, that can now measure the amount of rain that’s falling more accurately than traditional tipping sensors.

Also, while a traditional rain sensor only starts to register the arrival of rain when 0.2mm has fallen, these optical systems start measuring almost as soon as the first drop of rain falls.

The traditional spinning anemometer that measures wind speed is also beginning to be replaced by more accurate ultrasonic versions that are also more robust.

That means they can be fitted on a tractor too, something that hasn’t been possible in the past.

Getting the information from the weather instruments back to the farm office is becoming more high-tech too.

US maker Davies, whose Vantage equipment is also sold by Prodata, uses a Bluetooth link to pass the information up to 50m from an outside sensor to the warmth of the farm office.

The firm says its Connect system, which allows you to get the information on your mobile phone, is proving very popular too.

You can leave the weather station in any field and (provided you have a mobile phone signal) can see temperature, humidity and more specialist data such as soil moisture and leaf wetness on your mobile phone.

Cost of the basic Davis Vantage Pro2  weather station is £579 (including VAT) while the Connect version costs £995 (including VAT).

Ursula drone

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Ursula drone

Aberystwyth firm Project Ursula was one of the first UK companies to start using drones for commercial mapping of farm crops back in 2013.

Now called Ursula Agriculture, it was showing its latest Ursula G1 drone at Lamma.

While the original version used a V-wing format, the latest model looks much more like a conventional radio-controlled aeroplane.

About 1m from wing-tip to wing-tip, it’s made from polystyrene and is based on an off-the-shelf drone design.

Getting the drone into the air couldn’t be easier, says the firm’s sales manager Alex Dinsdale.

You just throw it into the wind and it automatically follows a preplanned path above the fields you are wanting to analyse.

Its rear-mounted propeller will keep it in the air for 30-40 minutes at a height of about 400ft from the ground, says the company, enough to cover 50ha of ground in one flight.

Because the drone doesn’t go above 400ft, it doesn’t have to be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), either.

Meanwhile, a bank of five cameras underneath the plane focuses on a section of the light spectrum. Between them, the different cameras show up healthy leaves, diseased leaves and blackgrass density.

Once the plane has come down, you just take out the memory card. It will then show which areas in the fields have problems and what type they are.

It is mainly aimed at agronomists but farmers who want to do their own testing could also use it, says Mr Dinsdale, once they have done the training.

Cost is about £10,000, including the sensors and the data processing involved costs about £4-6/ha. It is likely to be available in September 2016.

Zoomlion drone

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Crop Angel

Matthew Kealey, Crop Angel managing director, was showing an impressively large octocopter sprayer/slug pelleter from Chinese tractor, sugar cane harvester and drone maker Zoomlion at this year’s Lamma show.

There are two models, one able to carry 15 litres (about 30kg gross) of spray or slug pellets and a smaller 10 litre one with 19kg gross.

The larger of the two does need to have an annual Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) maintenance schedule.

The unit has a spray nozzle under each of the rotors and a central tank that takes the unit’s weight from 15kg to 30kg when the central tank is filled.

In work, the sprayer works at a height of 1-1.5m from the ground but never over 5m.

It can stay in the air for eight to 15 minutes, he says, and the batteries only need 30 minutes to charge. So with a second set of batteries on hand the machine can be kept in the air for pretty long periods.  

According to Mr Kealey, the plan is to offer the machine on the basis of a franchise rather than simply selling it.

The franchisee would need to get his/her pilot’s licence, sort out a service package, get the kit passed through National Proficiency Tests Council legislation and ensure that the operator  is suitably trained.

The first market Mr Kealey plans to tackle is bracken spraying, followed by applying manganese and trace elements. He is also looking for a spinner to dispense slug pellets or small seeds such as rape.

Airinov drone

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Airinov ag drone

Airinov’s Agridrone started life some five years ago. Though it sounds like a product from Russia, it was actually made in France by a farmer and a couple of engineers.

The design went to INRA, the biggest French agricultural research institute, three years ago for testing but is now on the market.

Five sensors and four lenses on the Agridrone do the analysing and the plan is that the company’s own staff will do the work rather than the farmer.

The 700g drone can stay in the air for 50 minutes (35 minutes if it is windy) and will cover 120ha.

The company will then send the results to the farmer, complete with the analysis. Because it’s under 400ft, there’s no need for special permissions from the CAA, either.

Cost is expected to be about £8/ha and the service is likely to done by agronomists. Simon Rehill, who is operating the UK end of the operation.

Hilltip snow blade

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Hilltip snow plough

OK, so it’s not exactly up there with the drones, but the latest pick-up-mounted kit from Ayr company Peacock Salt should mean that, whether you’re a farmer or a gritting contractor, you’ll be ready for the worst.

The company says that it is now selling a new range of  new Hilltip snow-ploughs and gritters from Finland.

The plough is attached directly to the pick-up’s chassis via two plates and can be hydraulically set to push to the left or the right – or set in a snow-plough mode.

It takes just five minutes to attach or detach it, says the firm’s Andrew Manson, and the 2.25m wide blade weighs a relatively modest 155kg. Cost for the whole unit is £5,500.

Peacock Salt was also showing a grit spreader that fits neatly in the back of the pickup.

Hilltip gritter

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The plastic double-skinned unit holds rock salt in the main compartment and liquid brine in the outer one.

For contractors that means they can spread liquid brine as well as conventional salt.

Cost of the unit pictured is £4,426.