The Arava region in Israel is home to a growing area of around 20,000 dunam (5,000 acres) of Medjool dates. Most of the date trees are female, which require pollination using pollen from the male date trees.
The most common pollination method in most of the commercial groves is using an air fan blower towed by tractors. These fans blow the pollen powder toward the tree canopy.
Drones have been used for a variety of agricultural tasks since 2016. They are commonly used for image analysis to recognize lack of water and nitrogen. Drone pollination is a more recent practice for permanent crops like almonds, pistachios and fruit trees.
During 2019, the MOP Arava research institute team, led by Dr. Efi Tripler, decided to test drone pollination usage and efficacy for dates. The drone method was unstudied and lacked recognition within the date growing industry. For this purpose, the institute contacted Dropcopter ( Dropcopter.com USA) and Blue White Robotics (bluewhiterobotics.com Israel), who provide autonomous vehicles for pollination and precision agriculture to conduct a pollination test during the 2020 season using drones.
The Dropcopter pollination pod has the capability to carry and spread up to 5kg of date pollen. The system is designed to carry and use less pollen in higher concentration than the fan blowers. The pollen mixture is set to 98% pollen and 2% activated carbon.
About Blue White Robotics:
Blue White Robotics puts the best of precision Ag technology in the hands of modern growers. As a single vendor they provide integration, service and support for Autonomous drones and smart farming to reduce agriculture labor dependency while delivering the highest levels of safety, efficiency and return on investment, especially during the challenges of COVID19.
During March – April 2020, 4 pollination flights were made, one per week. The optimal pollination height was tested and set. To test the pollination effectiveness, glass collection slides were placed within the tree canopy, and later examined under a microscope. Flower samples were collected from the trees to test for positive pollen presence on the flower’s stigma.
The date yield was weighed and sorted by quality. The yield on the drone pollination trees was 100 kg on average, with 90% export quality (weight and quality depend on variety of parameters – dilution, irrigation, fertilization and weather).
This test proves the ability to pollinate dates using drones. “We’ll continue to test this method in order to improve efficiency and gain the most from this technology for Arava date groves while examining the economic benefits compared to tractor towed fan blowers.”
Central & Northern Arava-Tamar R&D