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:
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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 speciality 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 effected 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



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.

Wil Natzel, a family member, will be an FAA Certified Drone Pilot under FAA Part 107 by April 2020 at his own expense.  Then our aviation attorney can apply for a commercial sUAS registration Number from the FAA, under FAA Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certification and an Expedition Certificate to spray pesticides over our vineyard.

The drone certificate will allow me to run the research project over the roughly 24 months of the grant. The research will take place on four separate acres of the 12 acre vineyard. Each of the four plots will be one acre each. Three plots are Marquette grapes and one plot is Frontenac Gris. Both varietals have Japanese beetle infestation.

Each acre plot will have different parameters set for the drone spraying research as following:

Speed of drone flown over lanes.
Pesticide dispensing rate per acre.
Pesticide to water mixture ratio will follow manufacturer's guidelines.

Height flown above the vines will be varied in this test.

Flight will be controlled by an autopilot that follows the terrain at a preprogrammed elevation above the trellis rows.

Conclusions from the research will be presented at several clubs/organizations. Possible organizations include FFA and horticultural students at Owatonna High School, Iowa Wine Growers Association (IWGA)  Conference, the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineer (MsPE) and other events or conferences.  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.