Key people: Berry Onderstal

'Sometimes people get aggressive because they think you are spying.'
Photo: Guy Ackermans

They are indispensable on campus: cleaners, caretakers, caterers, gardeners, receptionists – the list is long. Resource looks up these key people. This time meet Berry Onderstal (34), a technician at Unifarm.

‘You never stop learning here because we work with the latest agricultural techniques. Since I started at Unifarm four years ago, we’ve been working with drones and for the past year with the field explorer, a machine that flies across a field scanning the height and leaf surface of every plant. If we combine the data from these two techniques, we get a 3D image of the field and every plant in it. That helps us to monitor growth well and apply pesticides precisely, for example.

Now most of my job consists of flying the machines, producing the images, and everything that entails. I’ve got my pilot’s licence too: air traffic rules apply to drones as well. And I’ve got a diploma that qualifies me to communicate with the air traffic control tower at Schiphol airport. I was glad of that opportunity, but it was quite tough.

It’s no good getting frustrated easily in this job, because all the technology is new. It’s not just a question of plug and play. There have been times when I wanted to throw the drone at a wall. You also need to operate very safely and be patient, because during the flight you keep an eye on the drone as it follows its automatic route, sometimes for two hours at a time. And it helps if you are sociable because there are always two of you flying the drone. Then, if something happens to the pilot, the spotter can bring the drone back safely. The spotter interacts with spectators, as drones do attract an audience. Sometimes people get aggressive because they think you are spying. We were once filming a forest when three men suddenly ran screaming towards us, because they thought we were photographing them.

I have two passions: my vegetable garden and my work. I had a passion for plants and seeds even as a child, and yet I started out working in telecom. Now I combine technology with plants — perfect. I can use what I learn at my work in my vegetable garden. I am definitely in the right place.’

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