Drones helping every drop count

Startup brings aerial moisture monitoring to Aussie orchards

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GROUNDED: A South African company has developed aerial moisture monitoring for orchards.

GROUNDED: A South African company has developed aerial moisture monitoring for orchards.

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A South African company is now measuring orchard moisture down under.

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UNCANNY as it sounds, taking a bird's-eye view of an orchard may just the thing to check orchard moisture.

A South African startup is using drones to provide insights into irrigation so early-stage corrections can be made to improve uniformity in fruit yield and quality.

Aerobotics has been using its web-based platform, Aeroview, in Australia to show the possiblities of aerial moisture monitoring.

The company has developed intelligent tools for measuring water stress to ensure irrigation distribution uniformity is achieved.

This technology detects water-stressed trees, which could be caused by irrigation issues.

The platform makes use of high-resolution multispectral and thermal imagery to provide growers with these insights at a level unseen to the naked eye.

SIGNS: In the example, the technology has identified and verified in-field differences of 30 per cent in output of the irrigation system within the block, affecting 390 trees.

SIGNS: In the example, the technology has identified and verified in-field differences of 30 per cent in output of the irrigation system within the block, affecting 390 trees.

With a click, growers can receive an overview of crop performance and pick up on threats like water stress faster than they would manually scouting on the ground.

Aerobotics has also announced its is launching a new tool for irrigation management which makes use of thermal imagery to measure water stress in every plant, allowing for an evaluation of how the trees are transpiring.

To capture the data, a drone flies from a vantage point where Aerobotics can pick up on temperature differences that indicate crop stress.

It is anticapted that growers will use the product to detect early-stage water stress at a new level of detail, on a per-tree basis.

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This ties in with the Aeroview InField mobile app which provides a quick guide to areas flagged for investigation.

Aerobotics general manager Australia Yoav Yichie said by using high resolution drone imagery, it can generate very accurate crop water stress maps based on the evaporation patterns of each individual plant, allowing for targeted actions on specific issues on the ground, such as leaks, blockages and ineffective system layouts.

"Satellite and plane-based imagery can give growers a high-level overview of what is going on, but do not provide sufficient resolution and control over environmental conditions such as clouds, in order to generate an accurate water stress tool which can lead growers to specific issues," Mr Yichie said.

Some customers have set up their irrigation systems and scheduled irrigation based on drainage patterns, specific plant need and resource availability; and ensured critical locations are being monitored at the required intensity with representative in-field sensors.

Research agronomist at Booth Ranches in California Jason Reynolds said the system's analytics have added a lot of value to Booth Ranches.

"Of all the aerial imagery services I have seen, the Aeroview platform is by far the most comprehensive and knowledgeable," Mr Reynolds said.

"Having the ability to see the influence of water stress on a per tree basis, and where exactly in the orchard it is, will allow us to best manage any irrigation-related issues we may encounter."

Aerobotics was founded in 2014 by James Paterson (chief executive officer) and Benji Meltzer (chief technology officer) in South Africa to solve real-world problems faced by growers using precision farming technology.

Mr Paterson grew up on a farm outside of Cape Town and met Mr Meltzer at university Today, the company has flown and generated insights for more than one hundred million trees to help growers, investors and insurers improve their production and profitability.

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