Vineyard management proves worth of drones in precision ag

By Luke Geiver | September 11, 2019

Pollen Systems Corp. is revealing the true value of drones to agricultural growers. The Bellevue, Washington-based ag data and analytics firm is using drones to find and help mitigate specific pests and issues faced by vineyard management teams.

The team of Keith McCall, founder of Pollen Systems, and others, are working with vineyards in the Pacific Northwest to scout and detect for Phylloxera, a very small louse that lives on eats the roots of grapevines. The pest is eventually fatal to the vine even though it spreads slowly and is hard to detect initially by the naked eye.

However, with the use of high-resolution images in near infrared captured via drone, vineyard managers can detect stressed and impacted vines early enough to apply sanitation protocols that can slow or stop the negative impacts of Phylloxera.

“Flying our drones equipped with near infrared cameras at under 400 feet provides extremely high-resolution images of vineyards,” said McCall. “We turn around results within 48 hours, and then help customers use the images and ground truthing to detect issues in their vines.”

By using drones for scouting issues, Pollen Systems cuts the high labor cost and time for detection of pests and disease by up to 90 percent, according to the company. For instance, a drone flyover over 100 acres takes less than an hour while it could take days to inspect by hand.

“We used the Pollen NDVI and NDRE near infrared images to identify areas of variable stress that have led us to discover Phylloxera in our vineyards. The stress detected in the imagery is not always seen through scouting and sometimes the vines appear healthy to the naked eye,” said an Eastern Washington vineyard manager who wished to remain anonymous. “This early detection through imagery will allow us to slow the spread and implement potential treatments earlier than had we waited for obvious decline.”

The company currently uses small, electric powered multirotors for its drone platforms. The company has also created a cloud-based data storage system it calls Pollen Cloud. The system provides analysis and other information based on data collected via drone, satellite or other means.