Dropcoter drone helps bees pollinate 350,000 apple trees

By Patrick C. Miller | June 20, 2018

In the critical step of plant pollination for food production, Mother Nature is now getting assistance from unmanned aircraft.

It’s being called the first-ever use of autonomous pollination. Bees living in 400 hives at the Beak & Skiff orchard in Lafayette, New York, got help from a specially equipped Dropcopter drone in pollinating 350,000 apple trees.

California-based Dropcopter—a finalist team awarded a $250,000 investment in round two of the year-long GENIUS NY program—recently supplemented the pollination of apple trees. Dropcopter is operating from The Tech Garden in Syracuse, New York, to test its technology.

Adam Fine, co-founder of Dropcopter, said the partnership with Beak & Skiff brought together agriculture—the region’s legacy industry—with the burgeoning drone sector. “We know that agriculture is one of the most significant points of entry for the commercial use of drones, and it holds the most opportunity to impact the industry and economy,” he noted.

Pollination is an essential step to food production for one-third of all food crops worldwide. The potential of drones to assist with the pollination performed by bees offers the ability to distribute precise amounts of pollen 5 to 10 feet above the tree canopy, providing backup support to Mother Nature.

New York state is the second largest apple growing state in the U.S. Beak & Skiff is a large apple grower that been operating in central New York for more than 100 years. It’s been named the No. 1 orchard in the nation for two consecutive years.

Pete Fleckenstein, director of fresh fruit operations for Beak & Skiff, said the company is committed to deploying innovative technologies and welcomes the opportunity to participate in a partnership with Dropcopter to test a cutting-edge growing technique.

Earlier this year, the GENIUS NY program awarded $3 million to six companies to operate in central New York, working toward the goals of helping revitalize communities and growing the economy. The initiative is considered one of the world's largest business competitions focused on unmanned systems, cross-connected platforms and other technology-based sectors.