720 hectares! A new drone farm mapping record.

Last week, we undertook the farm mapping of our largest property to date. It encompassed 720 hectares of steep to rolling farmland near Te Awamutu in the Waikato Region of New Zealand.

The day started off with a quick catch-up with the farm owner, Andrew. He pointed out on his old, outdated farm map where the property’s boundaries were, the high points for the best vantage point when flying the drone, and we discussed the low-hanging fog that stubbornly rested in the gullies. We were pretty sure it would burn off by mid-morning, leaving us with a calm mid-winter’s day.

I then set off up the main farm track to the highest point at the southern end of the farm. Passing through a few gates and up the hill, I was glad to have a reliable Hilux with good tires to crawl me up the slippery wet grass. Once on top, I took stock of the surroundings and enjoyed the 360-degree views across the western Waikato. The sun was now well up and over Mt Mangatautari to my east. Within 10 minutes, I had the drone set up and my first task plotted out on the remote screen.

To cut a long story short, the drone flew back and forth over the entire 720-hectare farm in just under 7 hours. It maintained an altitude of 100 meters or 328 feet above the takeoff point. The Phantom 4 RTK doesn’t have the ability to terrain follow. The image overlap was set at 65% horizontally and 75% vertically, which is 10% below the default settings but was essential to complete the job before sundown.

The only problem I encountered was my own human error. I had forgotten to bring a second SD card with me, and once the 32GB card in the drone was filled up around lunchtime, I needed to get another one. So, I had to speed into Te Awamutu, which was only a 20-minute drive away, to grab a couple of 64GB cards. There was no way I was running out of storage now.

And that was that. The drone landed for the last time of the day at 5:00 p.m., just after the sun had set. All eight batteries and the drone had performed flawlessly, along with the generator I had brought to top up the batteries throughout the day.

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