Remote Sensing in Individual Vineyards

The cited article from Fortune Magazine neatly summarises how drones with multispectral digital photography equipment can improve vineyard efficiency and enhance profits.

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Objective data on vine vigour, in a mapped form, is tremendously useful. Very vigourous vines tend to yield more, but have a tendency towards poorer flavour concentration. Vines under modest stress will tend to yield less harvest but with enhanced flavour characteristics. Overdoing the stress, due to water deprivation, nutritional deficiency or disease, will be counterproductive. Ground-level validation after scanning can yield tremendous information as to vineyard management efficacy. Also, remote sensing and grape testing can be coordinated to schedule harvesting of different parts of individual parcels at different times.

Australian research shows that grape yield per vine can vary by a factor of 5 from different zones within even quite small vineyard parcels. Vineyard managers often will earmark lower vigour zones of the parcel for later harvest than the rest of the parcel, to allow sufficient time for full maturation and development of flavour. Chateau-style wineries in Australia and the USA report increased winery margins in the order of USD$20,000 per hectare as a result of differential harvesting. GPS devices on mechanical pickers make management of this process quite simple, but hand-picking crews equipped with cheap GPS devices and a proper plan can accomplish the same result.

One day last fall, a drone lazily circled above Hahn Estate Winery, home to 1,100 acres of grapes in California’s Santa Lucia Highlands.

The drone, a five-pound model airplane, wasn’t there merely to take photos. Fitted with visual and multispectral sensors, it was collecting various kinds of data—information to help Hahn monitor the health of its vineyard and resist the effects of California’s fourth consecutive year of drought.

CTD.02.01.16.PrecisionHawk.02Photo: Courtesy of Precision Hawk

Winegrowers worry about two things: the quality of their grapes and how many they can produce. By running software algorithms made for monitoring crops, a drone can help the winery determine both. Welcome to the connected agriculture business. Yes, even the Internet of things has gone farm to table.

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In November, Hahn volunteered a patch of its vineyard to test the concept. It teamed up with PrecisionHawk, a Raleigh, N.C., company specializing in drones and aerial data analysis, and Verizon VZ -0.04% , which developed an agricultural technology platform to synthesize and analyze crop data. Aerial data from PrecisionHawk’s drone let the winery infer canopy cover, an indicator of crop vigor, while ground sensors installed by Verizon monitored temperature and soil moisture.

PrecisionHawk analyzes crops in several ways. Multispectral imagery detects anomalies unseen by the unaided eye; a field uniformity algorithm helps quantify the relative density and health of vegetation.

“All of that data goes into the platform, which runs it against our analytics engine, which looks for patterns and anomalies to make recommendations,” says Mark Bartolomeo, who leads Verizon’s IoT Connected Solutions division. “The idea is, if you’re the farmer, it shows exactly what you should do.”