There’s no question that a nimble drone can cover more ground than an unwieldy tractor in the same amount of time, but the capabilities of drones in the agriculture industry expand far beyond that. Covering more acreage at a quicker pace obviously saves time and money, but leveraging the technology of commercial drones can allow farmers to gain valuable insights into the health and productivity of their crops. Viticulture requires a delicate balance, and this lucrative industry demands cutting-edge technology to ensure the success of a crop with little to no obstacles. From the optimal climate to soil acidity, pests, plant diseases, and irrigation levels, there are numerous factors to track when it comes to growing grapes, and that’s where drones come in.
One important factor that grape growers must keep track of is plant vigor. In order to determine this, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) or Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI) are used to assign plant health classifications to individual vines. These classifications are based on how the plant reflects light at certain frequencies, which is tied to the levels of chlorophyll, a common health indicator in plants. Drones equipped with sensors can send out near-infrared light and capture the amount that is reflected back from each plant, creating a visual map of the varying plant health from the entire field. This allows farmers to quickly determine which vines or specific areas of the crop need more help and might be underperforming due to certain conditions, so they can more efficiently dedicate their time to fixing the issue. NDVI levels are considered a passive insight that drones are able to provide as they indicate that a problem is present so that growers can further assess what is the root of that problem.
On the other hand, Hyperspectral Imagery is an example of drone technology that provides an active insight for vineyards. Drones equipped with hyperspectral sensors can detect if a specific plant has a virus based on the pattern created by wavelengths of light being broken down further. Growers are then able to understand the cause of the reduced plant health in a specific vine and map out other vines that have the virus as well. Similarly, hyperspectral imaging can determine the amount of water in the canopy of the crop, isolating specific vines that might require more watering. This helps farmers be more targeted with their irrigation and reduce the water wasted. Furthermore, this technique can also determine the ripeness of the grapes, and monitoring this can facilitate a more efficient harvesting schedule as grapes are picked at the optimal time.
Both the passive and active insights that commercial drones are able to provide for the viticulture industry make the jobs of grape growers much easier as they are able to gain precise information to inform them about every aspect of the growing process. Grape growers around the world are reaping the benefits of these insights, moving away from cumbersome heavy machinery in favor of agile drones equipped with state of the art sensors and cameras. From the centuries-old vineyards in France to the vineyards all across the state of California, drones will surely be the future of agriculture technology.