14 August, 2022
Drone gives new insight into crops
WITH acres of her Mutchilba family farm lined with mango and avocado trees, Dayna Scapin has been absorbed in agriculture all her life.
She now uses this passion alongside drones to take flight, giving farmers a bird’s eye view of their crops and new insight into their crop health.
Immediately upon graduating from high school in 2018, Dayna pursed a degree in engineering where her interest with drones was truly sparked, fuelled by touch of homesickness and a desire to stay connected to her rural community.
“I just fell in love with drones and I decided that I wanted a career where I could fl y drones and implement them into what I was doing, instead of building them,” she said.
“I never really considered drones before, it more came about because I was missing home, the farm and the rural community that we have.
“I wanted to do something where I can be at home with my family and be a part of that rural community so when I fell in love with drones, it all just kind of fell into place.”
With her new vision fresh in her mind, 19-year-old Dayna took six months off studying and attained her commercial drone licence, registering it under her newly founded business, InnerVision Drones.
At the same time, Dayna made a quick degree change from engineering to a Bachelor of Science majoring in Agriculture at Southern Cross University, where she hopes to use her new knowledge and drone technology to help farmers better understand their crops.
“There is the possibility to help assist farmers in a better future of farming and understanding of their crops, there is so much potential there – it is my ultimate end goal,” she said.
“Precision agriculture is the way of the future and so I began to do a lot of research to see what drones can do in agriculture and what type of equipment I needed.
“In my first year if studying the new degree, I did an independent study with one of my lecturers about drone data and using drones in agriculture which was really useful.”
While anyone can go out and learn to fly a drone, what sets Dayna apart is her ability to interpret and explain gathered data to a farmer and how they can use it.
Dayna’s work mainly focuses on Normalised Difference in Vegetation Index (NDVI) images, looking at crop health in places the naked eye can’t reach.
“With sugarcane for example, when you see crop from the outside it can look really healthy and it isn’t until you put the drone up and do your NDVI that you realise some areas need work,” she said.
“Essentially you need both the drone data and on foot data, you can’t have one or the other – they work together.”
Dayna put this combination into action recently during her 10-week internship at MSF Sugar’s Tableland mill, working with agronomist Graham Cripps.
Together the pair investigated crops using a mixture of drone and hands on work, looking at different issues like diseases, observing new varieties and areas where there wasn’t good plant establishment.
“I did a lot of drone work with MSF Sugar which was good because I am used to orchard crops, so flying over sugar cane was really interesting in terms of the differences in the type of data and the type of information,” Dayna said.
“We did a lot of work looking at cane grub damage so I was able to calculate the percentage of the paddock that was affected, information which the farmer can then use to decide the best course of action.
“I am really grateful to MSF Sugar for allowing me to do an internship, I loved it and it really pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
Mr Cripps is a firm believer in having boots on the ground and seeing the crop first hand, however, Dayna’s technological know-how and the drone’s capabilities piqued his interest.
“Dayna was able to trial her equipment on sugarcane with different challenges that we had and it was very useful,” he said.
“Sometimes she had to work for it and tinker with it, develop new ways to assess things instead of using the off the shelf software.
“It was a massive benefit having her work with us and it showed us what we could do with drones.”
Dayna’s efforts in establishing her own business and assisting farmers have been recognised by her university, being awarded a $7,500 scholarship which Dayna will be using to further her business in the future.