Idaho researchers work to show promise of drones and fruit trees

By Luke Geiver | January 16, 2020

A team of researchers from the University of Idaho have created a list denoting the most promising ways drones can be used at tree nurseries.

“Adoption and use of crop sensors in production agriculture saves thousands of dollars every year in many crops,” said Olga Walsh, University of Idaho researcher. “Crop sensors also help to significantly improve the efficiency of agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and water. Finally, drones can minimize negative impacts of agricultural activities on environmental quality.”

After working on previous grain crops like wheat and soy, Walsh began looking at drones and fruit trees, where in Idaho the state grows grapes, cranberries, apples and some pear varieties.

“We know drones can be used in orchards,” said Walsh. “But there aren’t any grower recommendations regarding what data needs to be collected and what kind of data is most useful, depending on the grower objective.”

Walsh and her team put together the following list of bullet points denoting the main uses of drones for fruit tree operations.

  • taking inventory of tree height and canopy volume;
  • monitoring tree health and quality;
  • managing water, nutrients, pests and disease in-season;
  • estimating fruit/nut production and yield; and,
  • creating marketing tools (videos for promotion of the orchard, or sale of trees and fruit).

Part of Walsh’s current objective is educate growers and potential stakeholders of how drones can benefit growing operations. The team has performed workshops, ran demonstration flights and met with several fruit tree producers.

In November last year, she presented her work at the American Society of Agronomy’s International Annual Meeting.