Drone on

Every time I see a drone it makes me think of the sinister U-2 single jet engine spy plane era during the cold war, those sleek long winged planes with cameras mounted on the under belly so as to take photos over restricted areas. We’ve come a long way since then, and nowadays  unmanned drones are doing everything from war zone surveillance to front door package delivery. It can be a little unnerving! While many times they can be seen as an annoyance, there are in fact some favorable applications for drones; from aiding authorities to assess damage after a major fire or earthquake, to helping farmers, winemakers and vineyard managers better maintain their crops. Drones can be easily controlled from the ground and equipped with visual and multi-spectral sensors to monitor pretty much anything they fly over. Sometimes it’s just hard to get the big picture from the ground. In a vineyard, the color of vines and signs of stress patterns are easier to see from above and aerial surveying with drones, especially on steep slopes is tremendously helpful! Can the use of drones actually help to make better wine? First of all, seeing a crop from the air can bring to light everything from irrigation problems to soil variations and even pest and fungal infestations. Second, the drones cameras can collect multi-spectral images providing data from infra-red as well as the visual spectrum  which can be joined to create a view of the vineyard that highlights differences between healthy and distressed vines in a way that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Additionally, drones can help to determine a vineyard’s overall density from sensors installed on the ground. These sensors measure temperature and humidity, and communicate or “talk” through a transceiver. Based on that data, soil moisture monitors can measure water volume at different soil depths. Using specialized software, vineyard managers can then synthesize the crop data and make decisions on how to adjust their practices to improve the health of their vines. While federal rules dictating drone use apply equally to rural areas as densely inhabited urban ones, some restrictions on flight operations, like always keeping the drone in sight and daytime-only flying, are expected to be relaxed or modified for agricultural and rural use. I think that drones can offer winemakers and vineyard managers a new perspective and be part of effective technology to help make better wine and who wouldn’t be for that!