This California Vineyard Is Using Drones to Make Better Wine
One day last fall, a drone lazily circled above Hahn Estate Winery, home to 1,100 acres of grapes in California’s Santa Lucia Highlands.
The drone, a five-pound model airplane, wasn’t there merely to take photos. Fitted with visual and multispectral sensors, it was collecting various kinds of data—information to help Hahn monitor the health of its vineyard and resist the effects of California’s fourth consecutive year of drought.
Winegrowers worry about two things: the quality of their grapes and how many they can produce. By running software algorithms made for monitoring crops, a drone can help the winery determine both. Welcome to the connected agriculture business. Yes, even the Internet of things has gone farm to table.
In November, Hahn volunteered a patch of its vineyard to test the concept. It teamed up with PrecisionHawk, a Raleigh, N.C., company specializing in drones and aerial data analysis, and Verizon (VZ), which developed an agricultural technology platform to synthesize and analyze crop data. Aerial data from PrecisionHawk’s drone let the winery infer canopy cover, an indicator of crop vigor, while ground sensors installed by Verizon monitored temperature and soil moisture.
PrecisionHawk analyzes crops in several ways. Multispectral imagery (left) detects anomalies unseen by the unaided eye; a field uniformity algorithm (right) helps quantify the relative density and health of vegetation.Photo: Courtesy of Hahn Vineyards
“All of that data goes into the platform, which runs it against our analytics engine, which looks for patterns and anomalies to make recommendations,” says Mark Bartolomeo, who leads Verizon’s IoT Connected Solutions division. “The idea is, if you’re the farmer, it shows exactly what you should do.”
PrecisionHawk and Verizon are just two of the companies working to develop technology to help farmers harvest more efficiently. Farmers don’t have the time or resources to keep an eye on thousands of acres of crops, says PrecisionHawk chief operating officer Pat Lohman. That’s where tech comes in. “There’s a lot of value in a solution that constantly monitors when things are going wrong.”
Hahn can attest to that. “We’re getting a clearer picture of what’s going on at the vineyard,” says Andy Mitchell, Hahn’s director of viticulture. “We want to apply this to all of our acres.”
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A version of this article appears in the February 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Grapes of Math.”