Editorial: National Farm Safety Week - Let’s cultivate intelligence and innovation

Anyone who’s watched TV or films in the past decade or two will know how drone cinematography can amaze us, lifting the viewer to a bird’s-eye perspective with seemingly effortless swoops and sweeps.

Just as impressive is how the same technology is starting to lift our primary producers out of rote yet necessary tasks by delivering data about and visual oversight of stock and crops across the land.

Even an off-the-shelf or ‘hobby’ drone can have enough battery power and camera functionality to be able to monitor fencelines and stock movements across smaller holdings for a relatively cheap investment.

More sophisticated, commercial-use drones, for which the CSIRO is looking at productivity studies, offer multispectral- and thermal-imaging sensors, GPS map creation, even payload transportation.

From mapping, surveying and monitoring land and livestock to crop dusting and irrigation management, drones have the potential to not only deliver productivity dividends, but safer working environments.

It’s National Farm Safety Week (July 16-22), and Farmsafe Australia has adopted the theme of ‘Innovation, Safe and Healthy', which has its main focus on how 21st Century technologies can help achieve this.

But “artificial intelligence” is still highly reliant on human intelligence, in how we understand and respond to the stimulus of our environment.

If a drone showed us a broken fence, we’d still need common sense to solve the problem: the tools we would need to repair it, perhaps how to navigate a farm vehicle to the site, or retrieve wandering stock.

And all the artificial intelligence in the world is still unlikely to resolve human stupidity, selfishness or greed. That’s where we all need to act to help our farmers maintain a safe, healthy and sustainable sector.

For instance, as the big dry leaches moisture and sustenance from the soil, farmers seek to nourish their stock in the “long paddock” next to roads. Litter from passing traffic makes this an even tougher task.

That same litter petrifies into toxic tinder that, come summer, is an even greater hazard when the hot winds of bush fires blow about the burning detritus, spreading flames, endangering people and property.

So this week, let’s not assume that farm safety is just a matter for our primary producers to ponder or technology boffins to resolve. Let’s acknowledge that all of us can play a part in sustaining the sector.

Drone technology. Photo: Adam McLean

Drone technology. Photo: Adam McLean