Operating a winery can come with a steep cost: a study by Washington State University estimates it costs anywhere between $600,000 - $2.3 million per year to maintain a winery, depending on the size and location. To combat this, winemakers worldwide are turning to non-traditional methods to make their operations more efficient and cost-effective. One of the most popular options (which has even received government backing) is using drone technology.
Traditionally, winemaking is a manual effort. Seasonal workers, often quickly briefed, inspect grapes by hand to determine the health of the plant. With this method, checking 1 hectare of land usually takes about a week to complete. Using a drone, this same task can be performed at a speed of 1 hectare per minute with 95% accuracy.
Even compared to more expensive airplane surveillance and satellite imaging, drones consistently outperform. While the average resolution for satellite images is 2 meters, drones’ are 2.5 centimeters because of how close they can fly to the canopy. With a plethora of highly-specific data, winemakers can make better-informed decisions about their crops and troubleshoot problems quantitatively.
We often see drones used to plan vine locations, irrigation patterns, and canopy management. However, by far the most common use case is identifying diseased plants. Illnesses such as leaf roll, red blotch, and flavescence doree can be identified using drone data and swiftly removed from the vineyard to prevent spreading. In a pilot program in partnership with the Moldovan, Swedish, and U.S. governments, flavescence doree detection improved by 85% when using drones.
Technology like DroneDeploy’s Thermal Live Map further assists by assessing damage after fires or pipe bursts. In the past, this information could only be gathered after the event had occurred. But with drone technology, these incidents can be predicted and avoided, allowing owners to be proactive rather than reactive.
Additionally, thermal data coupled with soil samples can help winemakers determine their soil health, and find the best places to plant their crops. Even in the Fronton region of France, where wine was first produced in Roman times, drones are being used to predict output and map large vineyards.
With the average vineyard size being 49 acres in Europe, drones can considerably cut down on time and resources needed to plan and maintain land of this size. By providing accurate, real-time results in regards to plant health and disaster management, drone technology helps winemakers make the best-informed decisions for their vineyards.
If you're interested in learning more about drone use in agriculture, watch our webinar on drone basics.