April 16, 2024

Sustainable Pest Control Through Drone Technology

High-tech is being combined with ancient natural remedies at Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West, where an innovative approach is being adopted to maintain pest-free vineyards. The estate, renowned for its environmental stewardship, has embarked on a pioneering trial using drones to deploy beneficial insects, focusing on combating mealybugs, which are known for spreading the leaf roll virus detrimental to grape quality. This initiative is a collaboration with SkyBugs, a joint venture between FieldBUGS and agritech company Aerobotics, aiming to enhance sustainable vineyard management across Vergelegen’s historic 324-year-old estate spanning 130 hectares.

The SkyBugs Initiative

The pest control programme commences with thorough scouting and data analysis to identify the vineyard’s specific needs. Equipped with specialized mechanisms, drones release the beneficial insects in their pupal stage from a height of 30 meters above the vines, ensuring precise and effective distribution. This method targets mealybugs by introducing their natural predators, predatory wasps, and ladybug beetles, directly into the vineyard ecosystem.

Targeting Pests Naturally

Predatory wasps, attracted to pheromones released by female mealybugs, and ladybug beetles, capable of consuming numerous mealybugs daily, play a crucial role in naturally controlling the pest population. This strategic application of biological control agents underscores Vergelegen’s holistic approach to maintaining vineyard health and productivity, marrying cutting-edge technology with nature’s own pest management solutions.

From Tradition to Innovation

The programme’s strategic implementation in three phases – establishing new vineyards, rejuvenating infected ones, and specific treatments for certain white wine cultivars – coupled with this innovative pest control method, has led to significantly low infestation rates, demonstrating the efficacy of integrating technological advancements with ecological pest control.

Beneficial insects not only suit vineyards, but can also be used by producers of citrus, dates, apples, macadamias, avocados, pears, blueberries, cannabis, strawberries, and various vegetable crops. Traditionally, beneficial insects are dispersed by purchasing compostable tubes of insects, which are then hung in vines. Drone dispersal, however, ensures more effective distribution and coverage, representing a significant advancement in the application of biological control methods across different types of agriculture.

Vergelegen’s success in managing mealybugs and maintaining healthy vineyards serves as a model for the wine industry, particularly in regions seeking to meet stringent environmental standards for export. The use of drones for insect dispersal offers numerous advantages over traditional methods, including improved coverage and distribution, which enhances the effectiveness of the predatory insects. This innovative approach not only supports the sustainability goals of the agriculture sector, but also demonstrates the potential for technology to complement and enhance traditional farming practices.