Canada: Drones could aid Nova Scotia wild blueberry growers

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Canada: Drones could aid Nova Scotia wild blueberry growers

Flying drones could save the Nova Scotia wild blueberry industry millions of dollars in the next few years, in what one industry head says could be a "revolutionary development." 

The airborne drones can spot troubled areas of a massive blueberry patch in a fraction of the time it takes a farmer on foot to find them, according Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia executive director Peter Rideout.

"It could be another sort of revolutionary development in our crop management," he told local media CBC News.

The single-propeller drones resemble small airplanes and are being used to map wild blueberry fields, according to the story. Farmers are mainly using them to find bare spots amongst the blueberry bushes. 

"It's not unusual to have fields of 200 or 300 acres. Of course in Nova Scotia, a lot of wild blueberry land is up in the hills. It's undulating, it's difficult terrain so using that technology to skim over and see what's going on is very helpful," Rideout was quoted as saying.

The story said although farmers did not plant wild blueberries, they did encourage their growth through pruning and other methods. Over many years they can guide the bushes to fill in those bare spots, according to Rideout.

The Association has been working with Dalhousie University over the last two years testing drones and seeing how they could benefit the industry.  

Mapping fields has already helped blueberry farmers, but Prof. David Percival — who oversees the university's blueberry research program— reoportedly has even bigger goals. 

In the next three to five years, he expects to be able to use drones to detect which blueberry bushes are suffering from different forms of blight brought on by a fungal infection.

Plants with the infection reflect light differently than healthy plants, and that difference can be detected by the drone. 

"It allows us to really key in on those areas of the field where the blueberries are susceptible to some of these diseases and focus on them," Percival was quoted as saying.

He believes drones could reduce the cost of treating sick plants by 30% - something which Rideout said would help the growers who have faced a tough market situation over recent years due to large volumes.

Photo: Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia

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