27 September 2023

Drones fly in to hunt for armyworm

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The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) is using high-tech drones to survey maize crops in the State’s north for the new invasive pest, fall armyworm.

The DPIRD is doing the work in cooperation with the Ord River District Cooperative with six maize crops being surveyed in the Ord River Irrigation Area during the growing season between May and September.

Fall armyworm was first detected in Kununurra in March 2020 and has since become established in Broome, Carnarvon and Gingin.

Senior Research Scientist at the DPIRD, Helen Spafford said the voracious pest could cause significant production losses to grass crops, such as maize, sweet corn and sorghum, and was known to feed on more than 350 plant species, including other grain, fodder, fruit and vegetable crops.

“The first of four drone flights has been completed, while a second will occur mid-June backed up by pre- and post-flight ground monitoring to verify the results,” Dr Spafford said.

“The images and data from the drones will provide scientists and growers with a better understanding of how fall armyworm behaves in northern conditions.”

She said the first flight in late May found that the drones and the software could pick up the characteristic feeding damage of young fall armyworm in young maize crops, which suggested these infestations could be early across large areas.

“We are interested in the data captured by the drones and whether it reveals any patterns in the relationship between fall armyworm colonisation and plant health in the field, which could aid management and control measures,” Dr Spafford said.

“The project is also using Normalised Difference Vegetation Index, or NDVI, data collected from satellites to assess plant health in each paddock.”

The drones, which are flown 15 metres above the crop, capture high resolution images that are then run through processing algorithms to identify insect damage to leaves.

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