Controlling Japanese Beetles in a Vineyard with a Drone Pesticide Sprayer

Progress report for FNC20-1240

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $8,988.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: IFM Brands
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Jerome Natzel
IFM Brands
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Project Information

Description of operation:

My family farm is 42 acres with 36 tillable acres and is a “rural farm in an urban setting” on the eastern border of Owatonna, Minnesota. The farm has been in the family since 1947.

At present, the specialty crop farm has 24 acres of managed haylage which is marketed to the horse industry as high quality horse hay.

The remaining 12 acres of tillable land has been planted into vineyard over the last nine growing seasons. We are planning to continue expansion of the vineyard every year until we reach 22 acres of wine grape production. The vineyard has a drip irrigation system installed for both targeted fertilization and “climate change” drought defense.

I am a professional licensed mechanical engineer and have been involved with the family farm for over 40 years. My engineering firm has been involved in designing Buffalo Lake Ethanol Plant in Fairmont, Minnesota along with numerous microbreweries, wineries, and a distillery. I worked with Bushel Boy Farms and its hydroponics environmental systems and tomato processing.

In 2019 I designed a food processing pilot facility for LZL Engineering, which specializes in food additive processing.

In the 1970’s during my college years at South Dakota State University (Brookings, South Dakota), I worked on a research project gathering data on farmland water runoff and water temperature of lakes and ponds in eastern South Dakota along the border of Minnesota. The project was funded by a GE Climate Change grant to two SDSU professional with degrees in thermo and fluid dynamics and who had worked on the moonshot with NASA in the 1960’s.

The drone sprayer will contribute 1.1 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere compared to 11.1 tons of CO2 for a 55 Hp tractor sprayer, which is 90% less CO2/year using the drone.

My next generation specialty farm is being designed and built as a high value added farm vs. a general commodity crop farm (corn, soybean, wheat, etc.). A farm winery/distillery is the next step and is being designed with “climate change” and low environmental impact in mind using solar energy with battery storage and artificial intelligence and the drone sprayer is part of the overall farming plan.


The vineyard canopy has been under attack by the invasive species, the Japanese beetle, for the last six seasons. The beetles attack the upper canopy starting from late June through early September. The canopy damage lowers grape quality, harvest yield, and causes uneven ripening of grape bunches.

We have experimented with milky spore along with grass and weed herbicide control to eliminate the vegetation between rows and under vines. Together they have lowered the number of beetles but not enough to improve overall production of grape quality and yield. We still have 20-30% canopy loss plus the canopy regrows first taking nutrition from the grapes.

A traditional tractor uses 25 gallons/acre vs. 2.5 gallons/acre using a drone, which in turn cuts down on environmental damage. Also heavy rains have not allowed a tractor sprayer to be run in the field. Drone spraying is not affected by rain.

I am proposing precision agriculture by using a drone sprayer system to control the beetle from overhead using 70% less pesticides, decreasing chemical drift and evaporation with greater adherence of chemicals to leaves and beetles on vines. I believe production can be increased by 150-200% through better control of the beetle using aerial spraying.

Update: 2/8/2021

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, supplies from China have been severely interrupted. The Joyance 10L Electrostatic Centrifugal Drone Sprayer and similar drones, for example, were unavailable in the United States during 2020. FAA rules and regulations are continuing to evolve regarding sprayer drones. Because I was unable to begin actual field trials no money from the grant has been spent. A website: was created and continues to be updated. 

In order to have an accurate baseline for the upcoming growing season and trials, I recorded chemical application (dates and field areas) as shown on the attached Japanese Beetle Control (Conventional Spraying) -2020 spreadsheet. Production in pounds for the ten rows of vines in full production is identified in the attached spreadsheet: Production 2020.

Objectives remain the same. In order to have two full growing seasons for research/trials an extension request will be forthcoming along with some budget adjustments.

Japanese Beetle Control (Conventional Spraying)--2020 - Sheet1

Production September 2020 - Sheet1

Update 1/1/2022

Due to pandemic shortages and ever changing government regulations it will take two to three years to receive certification from the FFA to use an aerial drone sprayer. I plan to change to a ground based robotic drone sprayer. Aerial sprayers can reduce the use of chemicals by 70% over conventional broadcast spraying. According to Precision Agriculture Technology for Crop Farming (Washington State University), a ground based robotic drone can use 90% less pesticides to achieve similar efficiency to conventional broadcast applications. A ground based robotic sprayer will offer safety for the operator as well as the environment as in my original proposal.

On July 7, 2021, I received approval for an eleven month extension of the grant and a change to a ground based drone. The Ryobi platform was purchased in July 2021.

Purchased the electrostatic ULV Fogger sprayers in June and late August (second fogger was out of stock until August 22, 2021).

Japanese Beetles arrived unseasonably early in 2021 (June 24th) and died out early by August 11th, so I was unable to begin testing the ground based sprayer. I am able to design the mechanical and pumping systems. Realizing I needed help with control system work I contacted South Dakota State University (SDSC) instructors Michael Twedt and Marco Ciarcia.

During the week of January 10, 2022, the ground drone platform will be delivered to SDSU. A team of 3-5 students will be assigned to develop an RC and “Follow Me” Bluetooth or WIFI IPhone mode of control.  Here is the SDSU Proposal:

The sprayer must be able to navigate a 500 foot plus vineyard row, which is nine feet on center with a six foot wide lane down the center of the row, with end rows 25 feet wide. One acre of vineyard is roughly ten rows wide. The vehicle will need a RC and “Follow Me” Bluetooth or WiFi IPhone mode of control, along with the autonomous mode, after being unloaded in vineyard. The goal is to spray at least three acres per battery charge. SAFETY SHUTDOWN SYSTEM IS REQUIRED.

I will be providing the 48 volt, 100 amp, main battery power vehicle framework with a 42 inch mower deck (Ryobi ZTR Mower). This platform can be modified to become both an autonomous sprayer as well as a vineyard mower. Also, included are two electrostatic sprayer units which operate on 48 volt battery packs. These units can be modified and integrated into the robotic vehicle systems with end row shutdown during turns. A sprayer reservoir tank may be needed to meet spraying requirements. It is up to the design team to decide.

The senior design team will need to design a proof of concept autonomous vehicle, which can be used in a vineyard safely. The team will be involved in the design and assembly of system controlling modules (Sonar, Radar, Vision, and RTK GNSS), along with the RC (remote) and “Follow Me” modes. An open source software package to control the robotic sprayer can be researched or the team may have to write code for the system as needed.  

The timeline is very tight. The start date is the second week in January 2022 and a working prototype is needed by end of April 2022. We will talk about how the team plans to test the sprayer at SDSU. The sprayer will be picked up in May of 2022, and field tested in Owatonna, Minnesota during the summer of 2022. The robotic vehicle will be returned to SDSU, after the first week in September 2022 for Fall Semester refinements and upgrades as needed. The project will end on November 30, 2022. I will need input from the design team for our final report for the “SARE Grant”.

Production 2020 and 2021

Japanese Beetle Control (Conventional Spraying) 2021 - Sheet1.pdf

Budget Revised 2021 - Expenditures




Project Objectives:

The objective is to lessen pesticide usage to control the Japanese beetle which in turn will do less environmental damage to soil, water, animal and human life.

The speed of the drone, the spray amount, the drone altitude and the ratio of pesticide to water mixture will be controlled. Drone use will speed up spraying the 12 acres, which will lessen the health risk from chemicals on the sprayer operator along with less pesticide drift by using 90% less liquid.

Another objective is to reduce the vine canopy beetle damage caused by the Japanese beetle in order to increase production.


Materials and methods:

The test site for the research will take place on four acres of the existing vineyard, which I own.

Each acre plot will have different parameters set for the ground based drone spraying research as follows:

  • Speed of ground based drone between rows of vines.
  • Pesticide dispensing rate per acre.
  • Pesticide to water mixture ratio will follow manufacturer's guidelines.
  • Different height and angle settings of electrostatic sprayer nozzles will be varied for this test.
  • Ground drone will be controlled by system modules (Sonar, Radar, Vision and RTK GNSS).
  • Preprogrammed path will be followed by sprayer in vineyard rows.

Conclusions from the research will be presented at several clubs and organizations. Possible organizations include FFA and horticultural students at Owatonna High School,  the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers (MsPE) and other events or conferences.  SDSU Mechanical Engineering and Agriculture Departments will be involved in design and evaluation autonomous sprayer with regards to precision agricultural education. Digital pictures of the research and results will also be shared on a social media website.

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Unable to complete any educational activities. See Summary Section for information.  Website created is

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.