Using Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles for Application of Fertilizers to Cranberry Bogs in Massachusetts

Project Overview

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2022: $69,724.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: USDA-ARS
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Brian Wick
Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association


  • Fruits: berries (cranberries)


  • Crop Production: application rate management, fertilizers, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research

    Proposal abstract:

    About a third of the US cranberry supply is produced on 5000 ha of farmland in southeastern Massachusetts, where the cranberry industry is an undeniable part of the economy, landscape, and cultural heritage. For cranberry farming to be a profitable enterprise, growers must balance the demands of crop production with environmental sustainability, uncertainties of a changing climate with regulatory pressures restricting water use, and a surplus of fruit with increasing production costs. To remain viable, Massachusetts cranberry growers are eager for new tools that increase effciency while reducing environmental impacts of cranberry production. However, a paucity of information exist on the efficiency and uniformity of  fertilizer additions to cranberry farms.  Currently, three methods are used to apply fertilizers to cranberry agriculture: aerial applications by human-piloted helicopters, ground applications by ground-rigs, and ground applications by backpack-type broadcast spreaders. Further, the use of unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs) is increasingly being incorporated into precision agriculture management activities, and which has the potential to improve precision and uniformity of fertilizer applications compared to helicopters. In the proposed research, we will conduct a 2-yr study to answer the following questions: 1) What are the optimal settings for UAV-based granular fertilizer application on cranberry farms, and 2) How does fertilizer application via UAV compare to backpack spreaders, ground rigs, and helicopters in terms of application uniformity, cost, and time? We will purchase a state-of-art multirotor UAV capable of applying granular fertilizers with a payload capacity of 29 lb, and carry out several field campaigns to compare the uniformity and efficiency of fertilizers applications with UAVs, helicopters, ground-rigs, and backpack spreaders. Growers in southeastern Massachusetts will benefit from technological advancements the enhance the sustainable production of cranberries. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We will carry out a proof-of-concept study to demonstrate the use of UAVs for application of fertilizers to cranberry bogs. Specifically, we will (1) determine the optimal altitude, flight speed, and spreader settings for UAV-based fertilizer applications, and (2) evaluate the efficiency and uniformity of fertilizers applied by helicopters, ground rigs, backpack-type broadcast spreaders, and UAVs. Use of UAVs for fertilizer applications has not been tested on cranberry bogs, yet growers are eager for alternatives to current practices that generally lack precision. Use of UAVs represents an opportunity to conserve resources, enhance water quality, and increase agricultural productivity in Massachusetts.

    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.