This is how drones are used in the vineyard

What do helicopters, tractors, horses and humans have in common? They all help to cultivate a vineyard. Now the drone is added as a new helper. The Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has permitted the use of “unmanned aerial vehicles” since May last year. But with restrictions: The drones are only allowed to spray certain crop protection products on steep slopes, namely all those that are also permitted for helicopter use. Likewise, they must not be more than two meters away from the plants and must not fly faster than 13 km/h. Two people always have to be on site: the pilot and a spotter, i.e. someone who keeps an eye out. If all this is observed, permits must still be obtained. The authorities do not make it easy for either the winegrowers or the drone service providers.

Roman Niewodniczanski didn’t let himself be stopped. The owner of the Van Volxem winery on the Saar has successfully commissioned a company. Hamburg-based Robopics used a drone to spread seven tons of Quaterna from Sobac over twenty hectares of vineyards. The Nik Weis St. Urbans Hof winery in Leiwen even had its entire vineyard fertilized in this way. The granules naturally activate the formation of humus so that the soil stores more nutrients. Van Volxem is becoming more and more digital as a winery, says Niewodniczanski, and he’s also tech-friendly, so using a drone as another way to manage the vineyards ultimately made sense to him. He also does not rule out that Van Volxem will even buy its own drones.

Such could be DJI’s Agras T30, which Robopics has used on the Saar and Mosel and which is currently the largest and most powerful device. It can carry thirty liters of liquid or forty kilograms of solids such as granules. It cannot be bought directly from DJI. There are sales partners in Germany who adapt the drones so that they comply with local legislation, i.e. are certified by the Julius Kühn Institute. For example, only six different “spraying devices” are permitted. In addition to the distribution of granules with the help of a disc spreader, multicopters spray synthetic or natural agents from a tank over the vines.

Practice cannot yet keep up with theory

Aircraft in viticulture have been around for a long time. But compared to drones, they are manned, big and noisy. Winegrowers on the Moselle in particular have been using the services of the helicopter for many years to relieve the employees of the winery on steep and steep slopes. Some winegrowers organize themselves in cooperatives and communities so that the use of helicopters becomes cheaper and more efficient because they can fly over several plots in one flight. The mission is risky for the pilots because of the environment. In recent years there have been repeated accidents in the vineyard, some of which ended fatally. In addition, a helicopter cannot fly so low over the plots, the funds are not distributed exactly. Alternatively, caterpillars secured to a rope with a spray device drive up and down the steep slopes. These tracked vehicles are expensive and they also compact the soil, which many winegrowers want to prevent. On the steepest slopes, winegrowers still use hose spraying. Two employees work their way up and down the mountains to distribute the liquid. This work is particularly tiring. Tractors would still be the most effective, also because they move closest to the vines, spraying from the side and applying more pressure so the liquid penetrates the plant better. But on the steep slope they don’t stand a chance.

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