WSU News: Drone captures vineyard irrigation data

Full article from WSU News

By Scott Weybright, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

vine-drone-smallPROSSER, Wash. – People may notice a small, unmanned helicopter flying over Washington vineyards this summer, but don’t worry. Doing work for science, it is fully approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The drone, or unmanned aerial system (UAS), is an eight-rotor “octo-copter.” It uses high tech cameras to assess the status of plant health known as “canopy vigor” and relate that to irrigation water use and evaporation from grapevines. The flights are part of a long-term Washington State University study on subsurface irrigation in vineyards.

“We can do measurements on the ground, but they’re time-consuming, laborious and take a while to process,” said Lav Khot, assistant professor in the WSU Department of Biological Systems Engineering and affiliate faculty for the Center for Precision & Automated Agricultural System (CPAAS). “With the small UAS, we can get real-time measurements in minutes with incredible accuracy. It’s a huge advantage.”

Growing wine grapes with less water

The study Khot is involved in is an effort to reduce the amount of irrigation water used to grow wine grapes by applying water directly to the roots of a vine in the ground, instead of dripping water on the ground near the trunk. The project is led by WSU professors Pete Jacoby and Sindhuja Sankaran, both affiliate faculty members of CPAAS.

WSU professor Lav Khot prepares to fly the 8-bladed octo-copter over a vineyard to measure how effectively a new irrigation method gets water to the vines.












In the first year of the study, Khot said one treatment used 60 percent of the normal amount of water, and the vines had no yield differences. But the three-year project is testing a variety of fields to see what levels of subsurface irrigation, at what intervals, provide the best outcome for growers.

“It’s very early, but it seems subsurface irrigation is working,” he said. “The berry size is the same as (with) control treatments, but we need more data. We’re really excited about the potential.”

Measuring water transfer through vine canopy

The octo-copter can carry up to nine pounds of equipment to measure the temperature of the vine canopy and how water transferred from the roots to the canopy is being used during various growth stages.

The drone works by flying a few hundred feet above the vines, hovering in preprogrammed locations for a defined time period, then moving to the next location. Khot stitches together the images to get data for an entire vineyard study plot.

The drone has built-in fail-safe features and geofencing capabilities; if it loses contact with its ground pilot, the drone will return to where it took off. Per FAA guidelines, it can only fly in “line of sight.”

“We don’t want it to crash and we don’t want it to fly off and potentially damage itself, its payload or others’ property,” Khot said.


Lav Khot, WSU biological systems engineering, 509-786-9302,

Students Earn 2016 Scholarships from WA Wine Industry Foundation

WA Wine Industry Foundation Scholarship Recipients

Jati Adiputra is a PhD candidate in Plant Pathology at WSU conducting research into plant diseases, supporting our state’s clean plant work and improving management of grapevine red blotch disease. Jati was awarded the Clore Scholarship.

Carina Ocampo will be a senior this year in the V&E Department at WSU studying pests, diseases, and viruses under Dr. Naidu Rayapati. Her research project, Gambling with Grafting, recently won first place at the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers Annual Meeting & Convention. Carina plans to continue her education with a Master’s Degree following graduation. Carina was awarded the Clore, Horse Heaven Hills Wine Growers and Foundation Fund Scholarships.

Caroline Merrell is a PhD candidate in the Food Science program at WSU. Working under Dr. Jim Harbertson, Caroline helped successfully develop a method to quickly and inexpensively separate wine tannins and anthocyanins, and is now using this methodology to understand factors that stabilize wine color, contribute to wine mouth feel, and affect tannin size distribution with berry maturity and wine aging. Caroline was awarded the Horse Heaven Hills Wine Growers and Foundation Fund Scholarship.

Mobile application developed by Dr. Troy Peters to answer irrigation questions

“When do I turn the water on?” “How long should I leave it on?”  WSU researcher, Dr. Troy Peters, developed a mobile app to help you answer those questions on your smart phone based on local weather data.”   (Android App)  (iPhone App)