Emerging technologies

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) supports innovation and the development of new technologies that assist Australian growers and ensure the continued protection of the health and safety of people, animals and the environment.

This webpage is intended to serve as a point of reference for stakeholders with an interest in this area, to be expanded as new technologies emerge. Innovations and developments associated specifically with spray drift will continue to be posted on our dedicated spray drift webpage.

Questions for the APVMA about emerging technologies can be directed to emergingtechnology@apvma.gov.au.

1. Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems

Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS) – also referred to as Unmanned Aerial Spray Systems (UASS) – are remotely-piloted (unmanned) aircraft used for pesticide application. RPAS for delivery of Plant Protection Products (PPP) has been used for over 30 years in countries such as China, Japan and Korea.

1.1. Terminology

While the term RPAS has generally been accepted for use by the Australian industry, UASS is the term agreed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Group responsible for the development of regulatory requirements in this area.

Other terms commonly used to describe this new technology include ‘Drones’ and ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicle’ (UAV). In our communication with Australian stakeholders, the APVMA will use the term ‘RPAS’ except in the context of work published by the OECD Working Group where the term UASS will be used.

2. OECD Working Group

The OECD Working Group was established by the OECD Working Party on Pesticides (WPP) in June 2019 to consider the application of pesticides by RPAS.

The objective of the Working Group is to generate guidance on the necessary data requirements to support pesticide application by RPAS, taking into account anticipated advancements in this area.

The Working Group’s process for assessing hazards and risks associated with the proposed use of pesticides considers the following factors:

  • Human toxicology
  • Operator and bystander exposure
  • Dietary exposures
  • Environmental fate and behaviour,
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Efficacy

For RPAS technology specifically, the areas of human exposure, efficacy, and spray drift are a particular focus.

Australia, represented by the APVMA, is a member of the Working Group tasked with developing guidance on the information and data required to support the application of pesticides by RPAS. This guidance will build on existing risk assessment methodology and seek to ‘bridge the gaps’ in our existing knowledge, taking into account anticipated developments in this area where possible.

2.1. OECD Working Group review of existing regulatory acceptable data for RPAS

The first task of the Working Group was to formally review what regulatory acceptable data currently exists relating to RPAS. This work has been published in a document titled State of the Knowledge Literature Review on Unmanned Aerial Spray Systems in Agriculture.

This document provides detailed background about the quality of the available data and provides an insight into the type of equipment being used in RPAS, e.g. single rotor and multi-rotor, boom and nozzle configurations; the way in which it is being used, e.g. common flight heights and speeds; and potential levels of drift in comparison to existing application methods.

The Working Group’s review of existing regulatory acceptable data for RPAS covered the following areas:

  • In-swath measurements
    • Spray calibration and swath widths
  • Efficacy studies
    • Overview of trials with some commodities
    • Comparison with other sprayer types
  • Spray drift
    • Sampling methods
    • Results to date
  • Bystander and operator exposure
    • Residues on RPAS units
    • Downwind exposure estimates
  • Modelling
    • Major model types in development

The key recommendations and conclusions from the review are as follows:

  • A requirement for standard testing methodology, including:
    • drift measurement
    • efficacy assessment
    • calibration of equipment and verified application rates.
  • A need to construct operator exposure scenarios that account for mixing/loading and application activities.
  • The data suggests the amount of drift from RPAS may lie between ground boom/airblast sprayer application and application by manned aircraft, although this is highly dependent on RPAS equipment and application parameters.

Future focus areas for the Working Group include the development of:

  • standard testing protocols
  • drift curves for standard equipment settings and operating parameters
  • a guidance document for undertaking research and the development of regulatory acceptable studies.

3. Current status of pesticide application by RPAS

The APVMA considers that pesticide application by RPAS is covered by our July 2019 Spray Drift Policy and the spray drift definition of ‘aircraft’:

An ‘aircraft’ is a fixed-wing or rotary aircraft that applies spray in-flight. This includes unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This excludes application equipment defined as a ‘boom sprayer’ or ‘vertical sprayer’ or when the product is used for any use pattern not requiring a spray drift risk assessment.

In line with this definition and the Spray Drift Policy, the application of pesticides by RPAS must be in accordance with current label directions for aerial application. This includes observance of all buffer zone requirements, spray quality requirements, water carrier volumes, release height, buffer zones and any other spray drift mitigations in the label directions.

The APVMA considers that the risk to operators, bystanders and the environment, as well as risk mitigation measures associated with RPAS application, will require specific consideration if registrants wish to include recommendations for use of RPAS on their label. We recommend that any research to be conducted on pesticide application by RPAS first be considered by the APVMA via pre-application assistance (PAA).

We’ve provided the following links to related information and publications to assist stakeholders in obtaining further information about RPAS application. We will update this list periodically.

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