Researchers at the University of Idaho are looking into ways drones could be employed for fruit orchards and tree nurseries. Olga Walsh, University of Idaho, is researching the use of drones for fruit trees. Most of the agricultural applications for drones have been on grain crops like wheat, corn and soy.
“Adoption and use of crop sensors in production agriculture saves thousands of dollars every year in many crops,” says Walsh. “Crop sensors also help to significantly improve the efficiency of agricultural inputs, such as fertilisers and water. Finally, drones can minimise negative impacts of agricultural activities on environmental quality.”
In Idaho, the fruit industry grows grapes, cranberries, apples, and even alternative fruits like Asian pears. Apples are the largest fruit crop in Idaho, with over 60 million pounds of apples produced per year.
Applying UAV technology to fruit trees
Walsh’s research team focused on applying UAV technology to fruit trees. Her previous work has been with wheat and other crops. “We know drones can be used in orchards,” says 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.”
According to Walsh, the most promising ways the drones could be employed for the orchards and tree nurseries are:
- 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;
- creating marketing tools (videos for promotion of the orchard, or sale of trees and fruit).
Futurefarming.com explains how, 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's objective.”