Drones Help Olive Farmers Target Treatments, Increase Profitability

Using drones, multi-spectral cameras and remote sensors, olive farmers can make accurate nutrient predictions, target phytosanitary treatments and more precisely apply fertilizers and irrigation.

Feb. 26, 2020
By Daniel Dawson

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Drones can effec­tively help olive grow­ers mon­i­tor their trees, pro­vid­ing use­ful data about the health of each one and help­ing to detect dis­ease.

These were a few of the major take­aways from a study under­taken by the Association of Young Farmers and Ranchers (Asaja), the Andalusian gov­ern­ment, the University of Jaén and sev­eral other inter­est groups.

The present and the future are here, and we have to start cul­ti­vat­ing with these new tech­nolo­gies.- Rafael Navas, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Asaja Córdoba

Over the course of two years, olive grow­ers in the provinces of Jáen, Córdoba, Málaga, Granada and Almería flew drones with multi-spec­tral imag­ing cam­eras over their trees. These cam­eras picked up data from sen­sors that had been placed on the trees them­selves or on the ground nearby and were then ana­lyzed using a newly devel­oped appli­ca­tion.

New tech­nolo­gies have come to stay,” Rafael Navas, the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Asaja Córdoba, said. Precision agri­cul­ture already exists and that is a fact. But it does not exist in the olive grove.”

See Also: Olive Oil Techology

Using the remote sen­sors, drones were able to col­lect data on the amount of water in each tree, the nutri­ent lev­els in the leaves and soil, leaf growth and mass, and tree canopy size, among oth­ers.

This data was then used to pro­duce a set of heat map-like images, which were put through an appli­ca­tion that used arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to gen­er­ate future nutri­ent pre­dic­tions.

Simultaneously, olive leaves were col­lected and sent to a local lab­o­ra­tory to undergo foliar chem­i­cal analy­sis, which can be dif­fi­cult, expen­sive and time-con­sum­ing, but pro­vides accu­rate read­ings of the same data.

The result of the analy­sis showed that 80 per­cent of the future nutri­ent pre­dic­tions made using the drone-cre­ated maps were accu­rate.

Anastasio Sánchez, the head of the Atlas Flight Center, which was also involved in the study, added that this type of pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture is faster, cheaper and more pre­cise than foliar analy­sis.

This allows us to have a very accu­rate photo, not only of a spe­cific plan­ta­tion, but of the state of each of the areas of its plan­ta­tion, and to apply any type of phy­tosan­i­tary treat­ments much more selec­tively,” he said.

Not only can the use of drones save farm­ers time and money, but this type of pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture can also lower the envi­ron­men­tal impact of farm­ing by allow­ing irri­ga­tion, pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers to be tar­geted at cer­tain sec­tions of the grove instead of being applied uni­formly.

Being able to focus treat­ments needed to opti­mize har­vests in par­tic­u­lar areas of the farms greatly improves the prof­itabil­ity of crops,” Sánchez told Olive Oil Times in a 2017 inter­view. All of this leads to a reduc­tion of the envi­ron­men­tal impact of farm­ing activ­i­ties, sav­ing water and phy­tosan­i­tary prod­ucts.”

The orga­niz­ers of the study hope that these pos­i­tive results will lead to the wider use of drone-assisted grow­ing.

The present and the future are here, and we have to start cul­ti­vat­ing with these new tech­nolo­gies,” Navas, of Asaja Córdoba, said.


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