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Daniel Carvalho de Moura

Forestry Director at Grupo Plantar


The use of drones in forest cultural treatments

In February 2024, Plantar completed 57 years of operation in the forestry sector. Since 1967, we have participated in the history of providing forestry services in various regions of Brazil. We work in several companies, participate in numerous fairs and have traveled inside and outside the country. For these reasons, we are pleased to have followed all the technological evolution of the sector in recent decades.

In particular, the use of drones has been, in recent years, the most assertive response to a series of long-standing demands in the sector. In this text, we would like to highlight the advantages of applying mixtures via drone, as well as solid fertilizer, in aspects such as safety, economy, management and innovation.

The application of grout via drone is precisely programmed, as it is necessary to identify all obstacles, which are often not updated on company maps. With an eye on the safety of the activity, prior to application, a fixed-wing drone is sent to take photos of all forest areas. The images are then processed to define the application polygons, as well as the identification and georeferencing of obstacles. In this way, when the application drone is finally sent for a mission, the entire area is precisely mapped (georeferenced), which guarantees that the operation takes place in a safe, productive and high-quality manner.

It is also important to highlight that spray applications via drone are duly regulated by official bodies, such as the National Civil Aviation Agency, National Telecommunications Agency, Department of Airspace Control, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, in addition to complying with specific state requirements. Drone pilots are accredited through courses aimed at training and training for the operation of equipment. It is possible for there to be more than one drone in operation in the same field, but with independent pilots, due to legal requirements, all for the safety of the process.

Operation support vehicles are properly adapted to safely transport inputs, as well as generators, batteries, controllers, mixers and other basic components. The living areas are suitable for supporting meals, and the toilets for the number of two to four people, depending on the number of drones operating in the same field. In addition to plots, it is very important to take care of adjacent areas, in order to maintain a safe range of protection for neighboring areas.

Drone propellers produce an effect that greatly contributes to minimizing downwash, but it is still very important to respect the weather conditions recommended for the application, especially winds. It is important that the application team is able to assess the weather conditions at the location and at the time of application.

Drones and their management software have evolved with each new edition, both in battery autonomy and load capacity. Every two years, a gain of around ten liters of flight capacity is demonstrated. This means that the market is close to transitioning from a 40-liter drone generation to a 50-liter drone. The drone application technology also makes it possible to reduce water consumption from around 200 liters of spray to around 37 liters of spray per hectare. Fuel consumption is reduced to just 10% of the consumption volume of a conventional activity.

Furthermore, the application of grout via drone does not cause soil compaction, does not require a large support structure for the operation and does not require large investments in roads or heavy equipment. Cultural treatments are carried out with a much smaller carbon footprint.

Another advantage of using drones is that they give precise access to tree pointers. These places contain growth buds, where it is possible to deposit inputs capable of contributing to the health and development of plants. Biological inputs, responsible for combating pests, diseases and contributing to soil and plant health, can be used in consortium with mineral inputs, or even with herbicides, to aid soil bioremediation. Furthermore, plant extracts contribute to increasing the efficiency of herbicides in order to reduce the amount applied. In general, with these techniques, there is an increase in the efficiency of applications in foliar or root absorption, in addition to an incredible environmental gain.

In cases of application aimed at desiccating areas with a large volume of plant mass, there is no longer the problem of the “umbrella effect” generated by machine tires. It is also possible to carry out cultural treatments in areas with high stumps and large volumes of forest residue, or even with impediments at the edge of the plots. It is possible to carry out cultural treatments even where there are narrow planting lines, since traffic within the plot is no longer an obstacle to carrying out the activities. In addition to all these advantages, it is possible to operate with great efficiency in areas with sloping topography, where machine traffic is not possible and manual activity becomes very exhausting.

In addition to a safe, economically productive and high-quality operation, with less expenditure on natural resources, there are new perspectives with the combination of drones with other technologies. The activities carried out on the plots are all registered on a network portal, be it software own or native to the manufacturer. In turn, flight controllers connect to drones and store data from each flight. Once you have access to the internet, the controllers carry out the data transmission.

With the combination of satellite or radio networks, it is possible to monitor activities in real time. The online management of forestry activities, with all information gathered in a “control tower”, has been a very assertive practice in the management of operational resources of forestry companies. However, don't forget to think about alternative data transmission systems, as in some places where operations are carried out there may not be internet access.

When we think about georeferenced forestry activities, layered in modern geographic information systems, we have a universe of new opportunities, such as better planning our operations; execute them with a high degree of safety, quality and productivity; operate in areas previously unfeasible due to the difficulty in carrying out cultural treatments, among others.

The adoption of complementary data transmission technologies, the generation of Vegetation State Index images, systems that help plan with a huge number of variables, algorithms that help in decision making and planning the correct management for each plot are tools of the present that can lead us to a future of increasingly sustainable and productive forests.

But be careful: it is a fact that acquiring and assimilating new technologies is always very stimulating. However, the difference remains with the people. In the development of sustainable forests, good managers who work on the motivations and purposes of their teams in favor of a better society are inspiring and deserve all the credit.

When we love what we do, we don't fall in love with technologies and get lost in them, but we use them with the necessary skill for the safety, productivity and quality of our forests. We cannot make technology an end, but a means to the sustainability and prosperity of forestry businesses. Before closing, we would like to encourage you, our reader, to follow these new paths towards adapting your forestry business. Go in search of all the possibilities that connectivity allows you. Develop the use of more sustainable inputs. We wish you good forests and good business!