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Research: Drones as delivery mechanism for biological control agents

Drones will fly over fields with their tanks filled with ladybirds, predatory mites or parasitic wasps and spread the insects precisely where pests are ravaging the crops.

Pests are to be fought with ladybirds and mites instead of pesticides. That's the idea behind a recently started project in Denmark.

The University of Southern Denmark is to develop an ecodrone that will combat pests in completely new ways.

Drones are to be deployed in the fight against pests munching their way through strawberry plants. With their tanks filled with ladybirds, predatory mites and parasitic wasps, the drones will fly over fields and spread the insects precisely where pests are ravaging the crops.

Associate Professor Søren Wiatr Borg from the Institute of Technology and Innovation:

"The challenge is to develop a spreader that can spread the insects without destroying them. They need to eat the pests before they themselves end up as bird food. To be sure of an even spreading, I need to gauge the airflow under the drone."
Associate Professor Søren Wiatr Borg from the Institute of Technology and Innovation is well underway with developing the drone's spreader to ensure that the insects land safely.

The Eco-drone

But working with living insects isn't easy.

Søren Wiatr Borg

"Predatory mites eat each other if they don't have anywhere to hide, so we cover them in vermiculite, which is natural soil improving agent, so that they have a place to hide."

Cheaper organic goods

Biological plant protection is being used to great success in many nurseries, where different insects are used to fight pests. But the EcoDrone project, led by SDU and the company Ecobotix, will make it possible to use nature's own weapons outside of greenhouses.

Centre Leader Brad Beach from SDU UAS Centre:

"It's about new thinking and developing technical tools that make it easier to avoid pesticides in the future"

"One of our ambitions is for the ecodrone to make it easier to grow organic food products."

"It will mean lower prices on organic food and also that we can better keep up with the growing international demand for organic products.

Reduced use of pesticides

It is not only ecologists who will benefit from the ecodrone, because the drone could be an important tool in reaching political targets for reducing the use of pesticides and promoting organic production. Søren Wiatr Borg:

"Previously, it has been difficult and far too expensive to use nature's own pest control methods on large areas, but by using the drones it is now possible."

"First and foremost, it will be strawberry fields, fruit plantations and Christmas trees we will concentrate our project on, because there is a large yield in a small area, but in the long term it is quite conceivable that the drones could fight pests in large cornfields."

Project participants:

Project participants are Ecobotix ApS, Aarhus University, EWH BioProduction ApS, University of Southern Denmark, Bakkegården Gyrstinge, Gartneriet PKM A/S, Gram og Nybøl Godser A/S, Harndrup Skov Frugtplantage, Hunsballe ApS, PS Trading A/S, Svishave Frugtplantage, Danske Maskinstationer & Entreprenører.