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September 30, 2016

Making your labour of love a lot less laborious

In our recent round of UAV surveys of vineyards in the heart of B.C. wine country, we were struck not only by the passion and commitment of the Okanagan’s viticulturists, but by the sheer amount of hard work that goes into tending their vines. Checking vines for vigour, pests, disease and yield in even a small vineyard can easily eat up 40 hours of labour on foot or by quad or tractor. The need to keep up with changing conditions makes this a never-ending chore.

Our surveys took place around Oliver, Osyoyoos, Naramata, Penticton and a large aboriginal community. More to the point for wine lovers, we surveyed a virtual who’s-who of B.C. varietals: riesling, chardonnay, merlot, cabernet-sauvignon, pinot gris and pinot noir, as well as some specialty grapes. As tempting as it was, our disciplined operators did not allow themselves to be distracted by the possibility of spending the day sampling all these alluring vintages.

We had typically beautiful Okanagan weather, with temperatures in the 25-30° C range. We did experience breezes of up to 30 km/h, but these were well within the operating envelope of our microdrones md-1000 multi-rotor UAV. Our surveys ranged from 25 acres to 300 acres.

The work created great opportunities to meet and interact with vineyard owners ranging from people who have retired from a first career in other industries to pursue viticulture as a personal calling, to long-established local families who have branched out from more traditional agriculture, to large vineyards operated by business-focused companies.

Although tending wines may well be a labour love for many of you, our UAV surveys showed that there’s another way. We think it’s a better way. First, what used to consume perhaps 40 hours now takes 15 minutes. Even if the results of UAV surveying were no better than manual work, that alone would make your vineyard operation more efficient.

Second, the speed of UAV surveying allows you to check your vines far more often. That sets you up to detect problem areas sooner and take corrective action quickly. Successive surveys over time also enable you to observe how your vines respond to specific inputs, such as water, fertilizer or soil modification. That allows you to make adjustments that make better use of your inputs. All of that, in turn, should mean stronger vines, higher yields and a better harvest.

Third, the information gained from Seisland’s UAV sensor payload is superior what you get from a manual survey. Many viticulturists still gauge their vine vigour simply by measuring the height. Our vineyard surveys included measuring NDVI, or normalized difference vegetation index, plus a topographic survey to help you assess how elevation and slope could influence the NDVI. And we also measure NDREI, or normalized difference red edge index, a sophisticated indicator of vegetation quality based on the density of chlorophyll in the foliage.

The handy printed maps we provide let you zero-in on subtle variations in the conditions of your vines. We believe Seisland’s approach will help you take vine management to the next level. You won’t merely find major problems faster than through traditional methods. Instead, regular UAV surveys can alert you to emerging problems before they became major issues.

Your labour of love will become a little less – hopefully a lot less – laborious. Leaving you more time to pursue the things you really love – like holding wine tastings and marketing your wonderful product.

So now, about those wine tastings...

– Garvin Geck and Stephen Hart