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Viticulture by Drone : A Technological Driver for Winegrowers

28 January 2023

What are Drones’ Benefits in Agribusiness from an Investor’s Standpoint?

by Augustin Navarranne, Wine Expertise Consultant, CABINET VITICOLE ST-VINCENT, WI&NE Provence-Rhône

English version translated by Nathalie Parent Dumoulin, Founder, NEXT EDITION, WI&NE Nouvelle-Aquitaine

When it comes to the wine business, vineyard investors often enter unknown territory. For example, they need to know their exploitable vineyard surface area. What will the yield per acre be at Y+1, Y+2, and Y+10? If one acquires a production tool, a plot of land is a lifetime project; therefore, the investment must be of fair value and set in a long-term perspective. With the rise of precision agriculture, modern farming is definitely at a crossroads where drone technology comes in handy.

1. Drone Surveys and Inspections

When first seeking the perfect investment asset, a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), also known as a drone, can be a valuable tool to learn more about the estate you manage or wish to purchase.
As such, the authoritative audits involve monitoring the Computerized Vineyard Register and its cadastral correlation. But is the CVR you “buy” accurate? Beyond the community regulations infringement that an erroneous CVR can lead to, a compliant CVR with up-to-date mapping allows you to know your vineyard quickly, organize your work efficiently and avoid time-consuming field trips.

Inspection units can collect and transmit surveying data in real-time kinetic (RTK) using professional drones equipped with centimeter-level accuracy geopositioning receivers. Consequently, precision viticulture can help better understand the vineyard, measure key structural parameters, such as the Leaf Area Index (LAI), and investigate the missing or unproductive vines to optimize uprooting and planting requests. In addition, drones now allow winegrowers to map vineyards with multispectral imagery stitched together and processed by an Enhanced Vegetation Index computer algorithm, enabling them to manage vine vigor better (fertilizer modulation, cost optimization) and to follow vine maturity.

Data to be relevant must be precise, and drone imagery delivers pinpoint accuracy. To put it in perspective, UAV-photogrammetry yields the highest spatial resolution of 1,25 cm/pixel, while satellite imagery has a spatial resolution of 3 m/pixel.

2. Drone Mapping to Monitor Vineyard Vigor and Water Stress

Drones may also help troubleshoot issues. For example, a farming drone imaging equipment records data through a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) map, a powerful technology that precisely analyses the vine’s stress level, vigor, and maturity. This invaluable data collection leads the winegrowers to the vineyard areas that need their utmost attention and ‘treatment’. So, in addition to being efficient, drone technology proves to be cost-saving.

Another use is Vineyard Variability Analysis through UAV-based vigor zoning by conducting one or two flights in the active vine growth phase. It delimits the zones in excess or defect of development. This information also allows for optimizing the harvest date.

As for maturity, we carry out a ripeness zoning calculated according to the vegetative evolution at veraison. The assessment reports are helpful for monitoring and selective harvesting. Moreover, the maturity zoning is efficiently geopositioned on a mobile application!

3. Drone Cover Crop Seeding and Steep Slope Spraying Operations

Given the very tense labor market in the agricultural sector, innovative services can alleviate the difficulties in finding qualified workers. AGRIBIO DRONE provides agricultural services using very large UAVs. Today, we carry out drone operations with over 40 kg payload, the maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) authorized for UAVs in France.

Viticultural operations carried out today are:

–  Product spraying without Marketing Authorization Applications (MAA), especially on steep parcels since drones can reduce the contact between the product and the operator by more than 300 times compared to a manual application (source: ANSES);

–  Plant cover sowing with, for example, an adjustable width for interrow sowing.

Other farming operations include spraying in arboriculture, greenhouse bleaching, sowing plant cover on field crop plots, etc.

Finally, it is also necessary to address the aerial and agricultural regulatory guidelines on using UAVs across farming activities.

Drone precise spraying of liquid products is authorized without MAA up to 19 km/h. However, following three years of organic fertilizer trials with MAA on vines on steep slopes, we are now waiting for the legislator’s authorization to use large-size drones in farming operations.

Keep in mind that the heavier the drone, the more airflow the drone’s propellers will generate, which will positively affect the quality of the spray. A drone weighing 24 kg at takeoff will not have the identical product coverage as a 75 kg drone.

No national or European regulations exist for drones weighing more than 25 kg at takeoff. It is, therefore, necessary to obtain an operating authorization (which can take several months) from the Direction de la sécurité de l’aviation civile (DSAC) and the Direction générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC) after having carried out a risk assessment of operations in a specific category according to the SORA methodology (Specific Operation Risk Assessment). These administrative formalities are to be carried out by the drone pilot.

More and more winegrowers with high-value plots are looking to purchase large drones. AGRIBIO DRONE assists in buying drones in partnership with local retailers, provides agricultural drone training and offers SORA methodology and Level 1 maintenance support.

To learn more on the above subject or related topics, do not hesitate to contact Augustin Navarranne by e-mail at contact@agribio-drone.com

Former Scientific ROV Pilot
Professional Drone Pilot No. FRA-RP-8973
Certiphyto Consultancy Services accreditation No. OF-0520-21158

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