Using drones to up the eco-ante for organic wines
There are plenty of good reasons for using drones to spray crops: they are ultra-accurate, quiet, fast and effective. Arguments that have already convinced Swiss winegrowers and are set to win over producers outside Switzerland too.
Aero41 specialises in crop spraying by drone, working with a network of partners to develop and manufacture sprays and provide spraying services to farmers and winegrowers. Before founding the company in 2019, Frédéric Hemmeler flew helicopters for 15 years. So when it comes to aerial crop spraying, he knows his onions. He also knows that, sooner or later, Switzerland will have to fall into line with its European neighbours, which banned aerial spraying years ago.
That is what got him thinking about using drones to replace aircraft, an idea that has plenty going for it. “They are quieter and also extremely accurate. There is practically no spray drift, which has always been the main problem with conventional aerial spraying. We are getting results comparable to ground treatments – and our customers confirm that. There is almost zero waste because we’re pretty much able to control the direction of every droplet,” claims Frédéric Hemmeler. What’s more, Aero41’s drones are licensed as a ground treatment because they don’t need to fly high to be effective. By minimising its flying altitude, the drone is able to use the downward air currents generated by its propellers to disturb the leaves, ensuring a more even distribution of the sprayed product. This feature is of particular interest to organic producers because plant coverage must be optimised for the product to be effective. Aero41 is currently working on upgrading its drones to meet customers’ needs even more effectively in the future. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and geolocation data in particular, the drones are even capable of recognising a particular field, which further increases their accuracy and effectiveness.
A potential for 100,000 hectares in Europe alone
Winegrowers using difficult-to-access land quickly realised the advantages of this product and were the first to adopt the technology. And that’s fine with Frédéric Hemmeler: in Europe alone, the primary market targeted by his company, he has identified around 100,000 hectares of vines cultivated on gradients of more than 30%. On this type of terrain, it is estimated that spraying one hectare requires four hours of manual labour. A drone can do it in 60 to 90 minutes. Not only that, it prevents the soil erosion caused by a tracked spraying vehicle. And last – but by no means least – drone spraying avoids any human contact with the produce. A way of enabling the drone to refill autonomously is also on the drawing board.
Switzerland and Austria have already licensed the use of drones, and certification is pending in France, Germany and Italy. Wine producers on the West Coast of the USA have shown an interest too.
Smart farming & drones