A drone sensor is successfully helping growers tackle a key disease in vineyards, highlighting that aerial technology could one day routinely detect infections in a wide range of crops.
Flavescence dorée is a bacterial disease with the potential to threaten vineyards. In 2015 alone, it led to the loss of 16,591 vines.
The disease is spread by the leafhopper, however, one challenge is that it is difficult to spot the symptoms. Symptoms are only visible in the year following infection.
To help growers, Carbon Bee, a drone sensor specialist, has been working with the French Agriculture Ministry investigating whether a new generation hyperspectral sensor can detect this disease.
Gerald Germain, president of the start-up company explains that it captures light in the visible and near infra-red bands and can detect differences in chlorophyll.
The company spent the last 3 years developing and testing a prototype sensor, which proved successful in identifying disease. Where the disease is found, growers can stop it spreading further by controlling the leafhopper with insecticides.
This season is the first that the system is commercially available and Germain says it can be used on a drone or mounted on a tractor going through the crop at regular intervals like a sprayer.
Looking ahead, Mr Germain believes the sensor could also be used to determine the sugar level in fruit, allowing forecasts of the beginning of harvest.