Can Agriculture drones revolutionize winemaking?

Discover the innovative use of agriculture drones for winemaking and how to transform vineyard management and boost wine quality.
Agriculture drone fly to sprayed fertilizer on the sweet corn fields

Since 2017, a rather interesting use case of drones in agriculture has evolved, and many companies have now started to provide these services. Agriculture drones for winemaking are making remote application of pesticides on cultures and vineyards possible, which could potentially revolutionize the industry as a whole.

Agriculture drones can potentially revolutionize winemaking by enhancing vineyard management, optimizing crop health, and ultimately improving wine quality.

Can You Use Agriculture Drones for Winemaking?

On the 6th of July 2021, the Drone Industry Association Switzerland released a comprehensive report on the Swiss Drone Industry, shedding light on the dynamic Swiss drone market and its swift growth. The report anticipated that the market’s value in Switzerland would reach a substantial 435 million CHF in 2021, reflecting the burgeoning interest and adoption of drones across various sectors.

Fast forward to 2023, and drones have continued to evolve and diversify. From delivery drones to everything you need to know about drone technology in 2023, these aerial machines have found their place in an array of applications, including construction, energy, education, and healthcare. 

The EU drone regulation and the Swiss drone market have witnessed significant changes, keeping pace with the ever-expanding potential of drones. Statista’s projections indicate a surge in the drone market, with an estimated 15.2 thousand units by 2028, demonstrating the enduring importance of drones across industries and regions. The rapid development in this sector has seen the emergence of numerous companies within the Swiss drone ecosystem, many of which have been established in just the past five years.

Can Agriculture Drones Revolutionize Winemaking?

A new era is dawning in the world of winemaking, and it’s taking flight with the help of agriculture drones, which can rapidly obtain SORA authorization for their operations. These unassuming aerial machines are changing the game for vintners by offering a bird’s-eye view of their vineyards, helping them monitor crop health, detect diseases, and optimize irrigation.

In addition to their capabilities, vintners are curious about how fast drones fly, and they appreciate the technology behind drone remote identification, ensuring safe and regulated drone operations. They’re not just technological innovations – they’re becoming essential tools in the winemaker’s arsenal, promising better wines, more sustainable practices, and the preservation of ancient traditions, all propelled by cutting-edge technology and compliant with the applicable EASA Means of Compliance. The future of winemaking is soaring to new heights, one drone at a time.

Explore the Most Important Drone Advantages in Viticulture

Visiting the vineyard is always an adventure, but if you were wondering where all the noise you hear comes from, know it’s not from bees or bugs. It’s from a drone flying above. In a world dealing with climate change affecting crops and higher costs, winemakers are using drones to save money, help the environment, and work more efficiently.

This being said, here are some of the most important advantages of UAS in winemaking:

  • Cut down on costs for things like pesticides, fertilizers, and labor,
  • Help save water by carefully checking the needs and health of vineyards, which is really important when the weather is changing a lot,
  • Save time and efforts for winemakers and make better wine.
  • Reducing soil compaction with machines that are less impacting on the ground

Some other drone spray applications were tested, such as the usage of coloring agents for greenhouse shading or enzymes to clean roofs. However, none of those seem so far to show the potential as the one agriculture drone used for pesticide treatments.

How Do Agriculture Drones for Winemaking Work?

As we look to the future of producing superior wines, it’s clear that drones in viticulture are playing an increasingly vital role. However, a significant consideration for vineyard owners and winemakers is understanding how far drones can fly. In 2022, drone regulations have evolved, providing a framework for their use. These regulations ensure safety and responsible drone operation.

Drones not only safeguard vineyards but also offer valuable insights into vine health and grape quality. With their remarkable precision, they cover vast areas previously inaccessible, contributing to more informed decisions about when and where to apply treatments. In the evolving landscape of viticulture, drones have become indispensable, offering both data and protection to vineyards across the globe.

Easy Pesticide Application Advancements Show the True Potential of Drones

The past few years have shown that the benefits could be substantial for applying pesticides on vineyards. In Switzerland, there are about 15,000 ha of vineyards, of which 4,500 ha lie on steep slopes, which are very difficult to access for the winemaker. Those cultures need frequent treatment with pesticides depending on the humidity between May and mid-August. Those treatments are needed to protect grapes from fungal diseases. 

Traditionally, on steep slopes, winemakers used a handheld sprayer with a tank on their back to apply pesticides. Sometimes, helicopters were used in hard-to-reach areas. This work was tough, and one of the main benefits of agriculture drones over handheld sprayers is that they make the job easier.

There Are Some Challenges in Aerial Pesticide Spraying and Regulatory Evolution 

The use of drones in the vineyard for spraying pesticides presents certain limitations, primarily linked to factors such as limited flight time and tank size. Also, the positioning of the spray nozzles on drones, along with helicopters, poses a challenge. 

These nozzles are situated above the plants, which can make it difficult to reach the lower leaves and grapes, resulting in a less effective application compared to traditional ground-based spraying using handheld sprayers. 

Currently, to enhance protection against fungal diseases, many vineyard operations combine drone application with ground-based spraying, a practice closely regulated. 

Regulatory Adaptations and Precision Testing for Drone Pesticide Application

In Switzerland, the same rules that helicopters followed initially applied to drones when it came to using pesticides. However, drones spray with less drift, which led to the need for different regulations.

Agroscope, an agricultural research center in Switzerland, has a process to check if drones can spray accurately and control the drift of the substance. If a drone’s drift is like that of ground-based pesticide applications, it gets approved. Each drone also needs to be checked every three years to ensure it meets the drift standards.

Operational Standards and Regulatory Hurdles for Aerial Pesticide Spraying in Switzerland

The homologation process involves strict altitude and wind restrictions during operations to ensure the attainment of acceptable drift values. So far, Agroscope has granted homologation to three agriculture drone companies. In addition to this, operators must acquire operational authorization from the Swiss FOCA to conduct spraying. During this authorization process, the FOCA also assesses various aviation operational and technical requirements using the JARUS SORA.

In Europe, one-third of vineyards are situated on steep slopes, presenting a significant market potential. However, the current EU directive (EU 2009/128/EC) prohibits the aerial application of pesticides. This directive initially focused on helicopters and extended to drones as well. 

Enhanced Application Quality and Future Prospects of High-Precision Drones in Vineyards

The adoption of high-precision drones in vineyards represents a significant leap forward in modern viticulture. These remarkable aerial tools have transcended limitations and are transforming the wine industry, offering vintners unparalleled insights into their vineyards, bolstering crop health, and enhancing the quality of wine production.

If you’re interested in boosting your production, contact UASolutions today for innovative drone solutions that can revolutionize your viticulture practices.