Students have been taking farming into the future, employing the use of a drone to survey paddocks and generate maps, helping them to spot problems with crops and livestock.

Stuart McVittie, who teaches agriculture at the school, saw an opportunity when the school purchased a shiny new DJI Phantom3 Advanced drone this year.

While the drone was initially intended for producing audio-visual material around the school, McVittie was keen to see what else it could do.

Scouting around for apps online, McVittie found DroneDeploy, a software platform for drone mapping.

“We can do elevation maps, so we can find the high and low spots in the paddock, and that could be associated with water issues in the paddock,” McVittie says.

And primary industries students have benefitted from a bird’s-eye view of their livestock, using the footage gathered to map cattle movement and behaviour patterns.

“We can even look at … how a paddock has responded with the application of chemicals and whether plants are healthy on one side of the paddock, compared to the other, when they’ve changed tanks over or something like that,” McVittie says.

The students, many of whom have not flown a drone before, have been learning a range of new skills.

“They also get to learn how to use applications and set an application so that the drone will fly where it’s supposed to,” McVittie says.

“They look at processing software to get the right images, uploading them and things like that.

“[They’re] also looking at plant health, soil issues, being able to analyse maps … and then, from the maps, determining if there’s a problem and then finding a solution to that.”

The educator has recently added a Sentera Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) camera to the drone for further use.

As opposed to an RGB camera, which comes standard with most drones, an NDVI camera can return accurate results regardless of weather conditions and levels of sunlight.

It also helps students gain a unique insight into their crops.

“Essentially what happens is … a healthy plant will absorb lots of visible light, and reflect lots of near infrared light,” McVittie says.

“And then if the plant is stressed or unhealthy, or dead, it will reflect visible light, but absorb infrared light.

“And what happens is … if the plant is really sick but still alive, it might be a yellow colour on the map. If it’s picked up bare ground or a dead plant, it’ll be red, and then if it’s a really healthy plant it’ll be dark green.”

McVittie is excited about the effect the drone work is having on his students’ learning, but also potentially, on their livelihoods.

“At the end of the day, we want students out in the paddocks learning the skills, so that when they go home to their own farms, they’re able to say, ‘mum, dad’ … ‘we did this at school today, this is really cool, we should be looking at doing this on our own farm’,”.

“And hopefully that improves the way that they farm, or helps them save money ... or look at their crops from a different perspective and be able to be successful farmers for the future.”