​Queensland amends legislation to allow drone use on farms

Farmers in Queensland can now spray crops from drones after legislation was amended to encourage crop protection.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Queensland government has announced amended legislation that now allows the state's farmers to use drones to spray their crops.

Acting Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne said the changes to the Agricultural Chemicals Distribution Control Act 1966 and the regulations that underpin it will give Queensland farmers access to the most "innovative aerial spraying technology" available.

"The government is keen to give our producers all the advantages made available by advances in technology," Byrne said. "The improvements to the legislation provide Queensland producers with cost effective options for crop protection."

Byrne expects the technology to be especially useful for chemical application in areas with limited access or difficult terrain, noting that where conventional equipment cannot be used, spraying from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) represents a safe and effective option.

"This includes cropping situations as well as spraying weeds or pests where conventional ground-based technology or aerial application is unsuitable for the situation," he said.

"I believe it is important to harness new and emerging technologies where possible and make them available to our producers, to provide new and improved ways to operate."

Under the amended legislation, both producers and contractors using UAVs will be required to comply with all label instructions when applying agricultural chemical products, as well as obtain required licences.

The legislation also requires that UAV spraying operations are only performed by pilots who are authorised by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and hold qualifications that demonstrate a suitable level of chemical application competency, Byrne explained.

The Queensland government announced a AU$1 million investment in remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) technology in July, expected to benefit the LNG, agriculture, mining, energy, telecommunications, search and rescue, and environmental management industries.

In addition to the cash injection, the state government partnered with aerospace giant The Boeing Company, in conjunction with Boeing subsidiary Insitu Pacific, Shell's QGC project, and Telstra to further the drone research.

"The project aims to capitalise on the capabilities inherent in drones to carry out remote-monitoring and inspection of key infrastructure and data analysis to allow for better decision-making," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said at the time.

The investment from the Queensland government was paid for out of the state's AU$405 million Advance Queensland kitty, which was handed an additional AU$225.2 million in the 2016-17 Budget.

As of September this year, commercial operators of "very small remotely piloted aircraft" were no longer required to obtain a number of regulatory approvals to fly their unmanned vehicles under new regulations approved by the Australian government in April.

Under the changes, the government also gave the directive to drop the terms "drone" and "UAV" and replace them with remotely piloted aircraft to align itself with International Civil Aviation Organization terminology.

The changes apply to RPA used in commercial operations weighing less than 2 kilograms maximum take-off weight, and under the new rules, drone operators need to notify CASA that they intend to fly their aircraft and adhere to a set of standard operating conditions, which include flying only during the day within a visual line of sight, below 120 metres; keeping more than 30 metres away from other people; flying more than 5.5 kilometres from controlled aerodromes; and not operating near emergency situations.

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