Farmers are responding to one of the worst droughts in California’s history by turning to technology. As crops ranging from almonds to grapes become endangered, and as attempts to pump more water out of the ground come up short, growers are turning to drones and LEDs, according to Brian Fung writing in the Washington Post.
If farmers can’t get enough more water from the ground, perhaps they can get it from clouds, Fung writes, and that’s where drones come in—to assist with cloud seeding. Drones, Fung writes, can deliver silver iodide to the cloud layer more easily and cheaply than can manned aircraft or ground-based launchers. Drone operators have petitioned the FAA, which has banned most commercial drone flights, to offer exemptions for agricultural use.
Sydney Brownstone at Co.Exist quotes Dr. Jeff Tilley, director of weather modification at Nevada's Desert Research Institute (DRI), as saying that cloud seeding is “…is something that water managers have really started to come on board with in the last few years as drought conditions become more prevalent. Can it be a total solution? Probably not. But it can be part of what I call the toolkit; good water management has to be a part of all pieces of the pie.”
Brownstone explains that pilots must seed clouds from above—they cannot fly within clouds because of visibility and safety issues. She continues, “Drones, on the other hand, could fly in or below cloud cover at slower speeds, distributing the silver iodide relatively evenly.”
If farmers can’t get the water to come to their crops, perhaps the will need to move their crops to where the water is—and that means higher latitudes. W”rites Fung in the Post, “Grow lights are ideal for northern latitudes where water is abundant but sunlight is not.” He quotes Kevin Wells, chief executive of the grow-light manufacturer LumiGrow, as saying, “That's how you get tomatoes grown in Canada in the wintertime, because there's not enough light there.”
In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture recently installed efficient LumiGrow LED luminaires in its research center greenhouses in Albany, CA. The LEDs will cut energy use from 40% to 70%, and they offer an additional benefit. “Unlike conventional greenhouse lights,” writes Dennis O'Brien in a USDA blog, “the fixtures emit a targeted mix of red and blue light that can be adjusted to elicit different plant responses. The greenhouse plants also are now growing faster and producing higher yields.”
And, writes Matthew Appleby in HorticultureWeek, “A team of scientists led by Dr. Youbin Zheng at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, recently released the results of a study that showed that plants grown under LumiGrow LEDs produced 16% more marketable [gerbera] flowers than those grown under conventional high pressure sodium (HPS) lighting.”
See related article on agriculture’s anticipated role in driving the commercial drone market to $1.7 billion in 2025, as forecasted by Lux Research.