New ways businesses are using drones in South Africa – like pest control

 ·17 Mar 2024

Drones are being used for various tasks in South Africa, from farming to crime fighting.

Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West uses drones to deliver beneficial inspectors to control pests in its vineyard.

The aim is to reduce vine disease and produce higher-quality grapes by ensuring that the current 20-25-year-old vineyards can stay healthy for decades.

SkyBugs, which supplies the predatory bugs, and agritech company Aerobotics, which collaborates with a network of drone pilots to disperse the insects, ran the first drone dispersal on the estate last October. Depending on test results, five more dispersals should be concluded in Q1 2024.

The drone releases insects via a motor-driven mechanism equipped with a cartridge and a drawn-out plastic film, which releases the insects onto the vines.

Each flight covers 20 hectares, and a new battery and insect cartridge are inserted when the drone lands.

“The target of these tiny heroes is mealybugs, which spread a disease known as leaf roll virus. This disease is much more apparent in red wine cultivars but also affects white wine cultivars.”

“Leaf roll virus diminishes the quality and volume of the harvest, and eventually, the vines become uneconomic and must be uprooted — yet another burden for a sector already under severe financial constraints.”

Crime fighting

Western Cape Minister of Police Oversight and Community Safety Reagen Allen also gave a drone to the South African National Parks (SANParks) to use on Table Mountain.

This follows a recent handover of drones to the Cape Winelands, Overberg, Garden Route and West Coast District Municipalities. 

“As the Western Cape Government (WCG), we are committed to empowering our partners and stakeholders to assist them with their crime-fighting efforts and bolster their disaster management capabilities,” said Allen.

“This technology will allow SANParks to have greater reach, with an additional ‘eye in the sky’ over our mountain, slopes and hiking trails.” 

The R18,000 drone has a handheld control, an onboard camera, a visual screen and a recording ability.

The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China donated the drones to help with crime-fighting efforts across the province. 

 “Partnerships are key to the successful fight against crime in Table Mountain National Park, and the donation of a drone by the Western Cape Government is one such key partnership where we can combine our resources to prevent and tackle criminal activities,” said SANParks manager Megan Taplin.

“The drone will also assist us with aerial surveillance and help our rangers during search and rescue operations.”

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