Weed-killing drone a new weapon against agriculture's $1.7 billion pests

Kaitlin Ruddock
Source: 1News

Weeds are costing New Zealand's agriculture industry hundreds of millions of dollars, but farmers are now looking to the sky for relief.

Representatives from the farming sector, local councils and volunteers in Nelson are considering whether to use drone technology to rid the region of invasive weeds.

Landowner Jan Fryer says they've been fighting a never ending battle in their backyard.

"The Old man's Beard, Honeysuckle, Blackberry is just going berserk in the river," Mrs Fryer said.

But now she's being offered a state-of-the-art weapon to tackle them, using a remote-control drone armed with 16 litres of weed killer.

The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly being used in New Zealand to spray in hard to reach places.

A recent AgResearch study found that weeds are costing the agricultural industry nearly $1.7 billion a year.  But a number of projects are currently underway, including developing a drone that can zap weeds with a laser.

Yamaha UAV Operator, Cameron Baker, says his crew's last job was at Matakana Island for the local council where they're "spraying the only infestation of Australian tea tree up there".

"We get all the areas that kind of get left behind or the areas that are too big for guys to go in there and walk."

Mrs Fryer watched on as the drone sprayed the weeds in the Wakapuaka River in six minutes - a vast improvement on the last time she tried to remove them.

"It took me probably an hour on my hands and knees with secateurs.".

The group present are now weighing up whether to hire contractors for the job or lease the drone for themselves.

"So you know, 'I'll do it for a day, you do it for a day, you take it for a day, then it becomes much more cost effective," Mrs Fryer said.