Experts study drones to battle insects posing crop and health threats

DJI shifts focus to agriculture as consumer drone sales slow

Drones are increasingly flying faster, farther, and for longer periods of time while performing a broader array of tasks. Now they are poised to take on a tiny problem that often leads to enormous damage: plant-destroying inspects.

Drones central to per-case pest management solution

Use of drones in battling those pests has thus far been limited to their cheaper, more efficient performance in spraying crops with insecticides. But now, new studies by agricultural researchers have come up with other ways craft can be deployed against bugs that threaten fields, ecosystems, and public health. The studies are contained in the Special Collection: Drones to Improve Pest Insect Management produced by Journal of Economic Entomology.

The cases range from foundational perspectives – like analyzing and perfecting drone capacities to detect pests or administer deterrent substances – to precise application scenarios evaluating the potentials and challenges of craft in managing bug infestation.

They not only reflect the rapidly developing diversity and effectiveness of drones and the tech they use, says M3 Agriculture Technologies CEO Nathan Moses-Gonzales, who co-compiled the research collection. They’re also a result of uncrewed aerial system (UAS) manufacturers more readily interfacing with experts from a whole range of disciplines – including entomology – to produce drones with a wider, more precise range of applications.

“Ten years ago, there was not much happening in the space in terms of entomologists deploying UAS for pest management,” he explains. “The evolution of UAS technology in entomology has been fascinating to watch… Our special collection speaks to the uniqueness of these partnerships and demonstrates the vital role entomologists play in bringing concepts to reality through methods development and field testing.”

Case studies in the series include identifying and testing stagnant water that mosquitos lay their larvae in, and improving the efficiency of insecticides by accurately targeting both those eggs and adult insects. They also examine deployment of drones to drop pheromones over cranberry beds to disrupt the mating of fruitworms and blackheaded fireworms; sterilizing Mexican fruit flies and codling moths to suppress the population; and photographic surveying of winter tree canopies to observe cocoons of moth Monema flavescens.

It also takes on quasi-military tones in examining the delivery and release of “predator and parasitoid insects to battle” European corn borer and eastern spruce budworm. 

In addition to providing insight in addressing management of those particular pests, Moses-Gonzales says the series also seeks to inspire new kinds of drone uses to deter all kinds of destructive insects.

“(W)e hope that the Journal of Economic Entomology will serve as a venue that not only supports rigorous research,” he says, “but also details the development of new and novel tools for use in pest management.”

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