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Drones: A stepping stone to modernising rural hill sheep farming

With EU regulations ever-hovering, in place to save the planet from the increasing global population, Irish farmers must think outside the box in a bid to produce as efficiently as possible and to reduce their carbon footprint.

They must develop a skillset that optimises labour, finance and time management. Drone technology could be the solution to all their problems as the ‘eye in the sky’ of hill sheep farming.

One specific advantage that drone technologies can provide, is the vast area of land they can cover, land that is not always easily accessible and are time-intensive to manage and access on foot or with the use of working dogs.

Drone technology – the benefits 

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA), drafted into their 2021 Budget Submission, a proposal for grant aid to be extended into the area of biotechnology, most specifically for drones, which will assist sheep farmers with the management of hill flocks.

The grant aid mentioned falls under the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II) which first opened in 2015. The EU and the national exchequer co-funded the scheme under the Rural Development Program (2014-2020).

This proposal comes as the uptake of such a critical support since 2015 has been low up to now by suckler and sheep farmers and the INHFA suggest that this is due to the options currently available for grant aid.

The rural economy would benefit greatly from the introduction of such a piece of technology for a range of reasons. They are easy to control, easy to program and have many different sensors that carry out a range of functions writes Stuart Green, Teagasc research officer.

Some of which are to manage livestock in remote locations such as on mountainsides and commonages. Optical satellites can accurately characterize the landscape, telling us what type of land-cover we have, Green states.

They collect data quickly and accurately, saving the farmer from potentially spending hours journeying to and from their stock.

Some other functions include livestock monitoring, pasture monitoring, rounding up stock and to move on stock to name but a few. Some may even allow for the programming of the traditional farmers’ whistle.

All of this can be achieved from your front door once you acquire the skills to control the device and its functions. Sheep flocks in rural areas, such as in parts of Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry, often find the mountainous terrain a barrier to optimal production levels.

Drone Works Ireland

Drone Works Ireland, a Galway-based company, provide a solution in the form of a range of drones, drone training, trade-ins, repairs, drone aerial services and drone rental.

They can provide products and training for the agricultural sector. Their YouTube channel delivers a diverse range of ways its products can be used including in a hill-sheep farming context. Its products have been shown to be used in rounding up a mountain sheep flock and another of gorse being targeted with herbicide application on a hillside. Precision agriculture at its finest.

While Ireland’s tillage-producing sector is getting the hang of the use of drones for precision agriculture or ‘smart farming’, its remote hill sheep farming areas could hugely benefit from their introduction. The doors are opening for this to become an accessible reality for many, very soon. Dogs beware.

By Nicole O’Malley
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