Grassland farmers could make cost savings on weed controls by using drone technology used in the arable sector to identify areas where herbicides are needed.

Dr Ivan Grove, working in precision agronomy at the crop and environment research department at Harper Adams University, says weed mapping is one tool that has benefits for dairy farms.

Infestation from weeds such as docks or nettles are mostly very localised in grass leys.

“Drones can be used to map where these are and this information can be imported into sprayers to apply herbicides only in the affected areas,’’ Dr Grove explains.

“It is only a matter of time before commercially available spray drones, once registered for aerial application in the UK, will apply the products.’’

If applications can be targeted more effectively, there will be cost savings and reductions in pesticide use which will have significant environmental benefits, as well as productive leys, Dr Grove adds.

He emphasises that the ownership cost of drones is not high but warns that farmers must be aware of the legalities of their use. “If there is a financial gain from using a drone, and if it is being used to improve grassland through weed control that would be the case, then a permission for commercial operation is needed.’’