Brazil to test drone seeding in reforestation efforts

A university in Brazil has partnered with a local drone services company to integrate drone technology in efforts to restore forests in the country.

The Federal University of Parana, the oldest university in Brazil has embarked on the Arboreto Project, a reforestation project in collaboration with Chinese drone manufacturer XAG’s Brazilian partner Timber (which supplies autonomous agricultural machinery), where the two plan to test the drone seeding application.  

Spearheaded by the university’s departments of Forestry Engineering and Technology and Forestry Sciences, the project aims to help speed up the process of forest restoration through planting tree species with commercial interest and environmental adaptation and also help demonstrate the effectiveness of drones to boost forest growth, paving the way for the autonomous technology to be used in large-scale planting of Brazilian forests.

“During the field experiment, different amounts of seeds were weighed and sorted into the smart container onboard the drone,” a statement from XAG said. “After the pilot entered all the operation parameters into the mobile app, such as waypoints, flight speed, and spray volume, the XAG Agricultural Drone with a spreading attachment was planned to run along target lines, evenly distributing seeds from different forest species native to the region.

“Compared to planting trees by manual labour, a drone with full automation can improve the productivity of the restoration work, especially in terrains that are difficult to access. It is expected that agricultural drones can serve as a cost-effective tool to facilitate the replanting of native trees by governments and companies.”

Brazil has been experiencing worrying deforestation of late, with clearances of native vegetation in the country’s savanna forest, the Cerrado rising eight percent to 8,531 square km in the 12 months leading to July 2021, according to national space research agency Inpe.

This level of denudation is the worst since 2015.

The Cerrado’s more world-famous neighbour, the Amazon rainforest, did not fare better either in the same period under review, with Inpe saying the forest lost some 13,235 square km, a 22 percent rise from 2020 figures and the highest amount since 2006.

“As deforestation has become a global crisis that can undermine the climate target and threaten food security, the autonomous farming drone could be explored for a new territory to make forest replanting easier and faster,” XAG said. “Brazil, with the world’s second largest forest area, is among one of the countries which pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 at the COP26 climate summit.

“Now with the seeds of hope planted, germination rate and tree growth per row will be carefully evaluated for this innovative project, in addition to understanding the most suitable seed mixture for drone application.”

Previously, agricultural drones have been deployed to plant trees in South Africa, as well as recover lost forests in Madagascar.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of the versatility of XAG’s agricultural drone, UFPR also conducted another experiment with an eye on fertilisation and pest control for plantations of commercial tree species. At UFPR’s Experimental Farm near Rio Negro (the Amazon River’s largest tributary), the XAG drone successfully dispersed solid fertilizer and liquid pesticide over some slash pine plants.

“We know how difficult it is to carry out work like this one to plant native trees,” the said the UFPR’s Professor Alessandro Camargo Angelo. “So, when we can count on a technology that has control and that we can manage to define rigour, this is welcomed.”


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