February 13, 2015
I want you to put yourself in the shoes of a large-scale farmer for a few minutes here. Imagine standing on the front of your farmhouse porch, examining the sheer amount of space that your growing crops consume. Your day, your job, and your life all surround making sure that you get as many viable, perfectly grown crops as you can, and it’s a very hands-on process.
Now, imagine that same scenario, but this time you’ve got a cohort of drones, controlled by a credible and trustworthy company, to assist. No matter the burden, these little technological farmhands can give 100 percent guaranteed to help hold it up.
When David Baeza moved out of Los Angeles for the wine country just outside of Santa Barbara, he didn’t know he’d end up fusing technology, wine making, and farming. The end result was the foundation of his company, Vine Rangers.
During his time in Santa Barbara he grew close with the wine makers and during their business talks he would ask them how technology could improve their life, from soil to bottle. That one question would lead him to drones.
“Looking at the crop is a huge area,” says Baeza. “When we conducted the interviews the farmers were clear about what they wanted: high level overview in terms of growth – where are the hot spots and cold spots, high vs low vigor, robust or not?”
Baeza has, in effect, given these farmer’s a viewpoint they’ve never had easy access to in the bird’s eye view. They can get a complete, topographical view of their entire vineyard and diagnose precisely what areas aren’t behaving the way they need to.
But the applications of drones go so much further for these farmers than simply an extra eye in the sky. There’s always the chance for human error, especially when it comes to spotting pests in the vineyard.
In addition to the overhead drones, Vine Rangers employs the use of on-ground drones that spot the vines and leaves from the underside. If they find a diseased or infested area of the crop, they can spray pesticides in a targeted fashion, maybe on two or three small locations, instead of dusting the entire property.
In a way, Vine Rangers' drones open up entirely new avenues for affiliated farmers so they can control and manage every aspect of their vineyard far better than the traditional methods would allow. And at the end of it all, every drone is collecting data, anywhere between 4 and 9 GB per farm, that Vine Rangers and the farmers share for a complete image of the landscape.
“Drones are the sexy part, but it’s all about the data,” says Baeza. “You’re getting an accurate picture of your vineyard. There hasn’t been visual interpretation of the health of a vineyard; this is the first time in history that a farmer can be proactive instead of reactive.”
Mind you, everything Baeza has accomplished to date is part of the short term plan for Vine Rangers. Long term, he’s hoping to build and hire locally. Right now the Vine Rangers tech center is being built in San Ynez, and all the pilots, observers, and managers are local talent.
That model, according to Baeza, is going to be replicated in certain areas like Napa, California and Farno, North Dakota.
“When kids get out of college, there’s not much around here for them to do outside of farming, wine making, or hospitality,” says Baeza. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could retain some of the tech talent coming out of the local colleges?”
Truly, it would. Vine Rangers recently applied for their FAA Exemption to further extend the reach of their company, and they hope to get it by April or May 2015.
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