Reducing environmental exposure to PPPs in super-high density olive orchards using UAV sprayers

Front Plant Sci. 2024 Jan 4:14:1272372. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2023.1272372. eCollection 2023.


The increasing demand for optimizing the use of agricultural resources will require the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and precision farming management. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) sprayers seem promising due to their potential to perform precision or spot spraying, particularly in woody crop environments where total surface spraying is unnecessary. However, incorporating this technology is limited by the lack of scientific knowledge about the environmental risks associated with UAV sprayers and the strict legal framework. Nonetheless, these spraying systems' characteristic downwash airflow and the limited swath width can potentially mitigate drift in hedgerow crops. During our study we performed comparative studies aimed to compare the airborne drift, soil, and crop depositions between a conventional orchard sprayer and a UAV sprayer in a commercial superhigh-density orchard in the South Iberian Peninsula in 2022. Our findings reveal that, in superhigh-density olive orchards, the UAV sprayer presents a substantial reduction in airborne drift, while soil depositions showed no significant differences compared to those of a conventional terrestrial orchard sprayer. Crop depositions were significantly lower when utilizing the UAV sprayer. These results suggest that introducing UAV spraying technology in Mediterranean agricultural systems, under specific scenarios, can effectively reduce the environmental impact of crop spraying and encourage the responsible use of plant protection products (PPPs).

Keywords: autonomous UAV; olive; plant protection product application; precision farming; spray drift.

Grants and funding

The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. The European Union and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Spain funded this study.