By the end of this year, local farmers of specialty crops like sugar beets could be farming in an entirely new fashion. A new fleet of of drones from Vine Rangers, which currently only exists in the vineyards of California, will soon be expanding to the farmlands of Fargo.
Who are the Vine Rangers?
Vine Rangers are the bridge between tech and agriculture – a group of technologists who have combined efforts with farmers in order to produce the most efficient method of farming. In this case, using the latest cloud, mobile, and imaging tech, along with a little flying device known as the drone.
Vine Rangers’ founder and CEO David Baeza is a techie, not a farmer; he spent over a decade as the VP for the software company Citrix Systems. But as a resident of the wine country in Santa Ynez Valley, CA, he’s well-aware of the difficulties involved with farming. After hearing story after story from his wine-making friends struggling with crop issues – disease, vigor, crop cover, ripeness, weather, water saturation – he decided to create a solution that would combine his love for wine-making with his experience in tech.
Enter the drones. Drones, when flying over acres of farm land, can give farmers a unique birds-eye view of their crop. What’s more, they can use infrared vision to pinpoint where diseases are beginning and where the grapes are most ripe [as pictured, below].
Instead of using blanket insecticides to kill deadly crop diseases, a tactic that also wipes out the honeybees, the data taken from the drones allows farmers the ability to do precision spraying.
“This is the first time that farmers can move from reactive to proactive,” Baeza said in a recent talk he gave at TEDxBeaconStreet. “They can deploy their resources more effectively.”
Vine Rangers’ first office outside California will be in Fargo
Currently, this tech is only being tested on the Californian vineyards around Baeza’s hometown. But after a conversation with Greg Tehven, Baeza began to consider how it could be implemented up north. This brought him eventually to the stage at 1 Million Cups a few weeks ago, where he presented Vine Rangers and announced he wants to bring it to Fargo, specifically to be implemented within the sugar beet industry.
What he got in response was a whole lot of interest.
“[Interest] was so high that we decided that this is worth pursuing,” he said.
“And the resources make themselves readily available. Fargo makes it easy to work there.”
The Fargo office will be the first and only one outside of California. The next step to making this a reality, Baeza said, is presenting the idea to local farmers. At the end of this month, Baeza is speaking with the American Crystal Sugar Company, which is based in Moorhead and is currently the nation’s largest sugar beet producer.
Baeza will be presenting Vine Rangers’ “Pilot Program,” a program where Vine Rangers’ employees and drone pilots come alongside the farmers and learn what problems they are having and what data they need in order to farm better.
“It’s not about having a bunch of drones flying around,” Baeza said. “The very first step is understanding how they farm. Once we know that, then we know what to start looking for.”
The Pilot Program is offered for free to farmers, in order to illustrate the capabilities of using Vine Rangers. Once the value is seen, Baeza said, they are confident there will be customers.
Tyler Grove, General Agronomist at American Crystal Sugar Company, said he is very interested in learning more about Vine Rangers and looks forward to the conference call with Baeza at the end of February. Currently, American Crystal is not using drone technology as they are waiting – like Baeza – for an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration.
One of the big things to solve for in Fargo, Baeza said, is finding the bandwidth to upload the hefty amounts of data gathered by the drones. Usually the only places with the bandwidth to do so are data centers or universities, he said. In California, Vine Rangers has a partnership with the University of California Santa Barbara as a part of their Smart Farm Initiative program. Baeza said he hopes to form a similar partnership with North Dakota State University.
So when can we expect to see some drone action in Fargo farms?
“I’d set it up tomorrow if I could,” Baeza said. “When the right financing comes up, we can make it happen. And there’s a lot of talent in Fargo. There’s no reason it should not happen this year.”
Learn more about David Baeza and Vine Rangers, here.
Photos courtesy of David Baeza.