As Farmland Shrinks, Drones Rethink: The Vine Rangers Project

Professional carbon drone with GPS making a ride.

According to David Baeza, “By 2030, farmland per capita in the world will decrease by more than 50%.” The tech and marketing entrepreneur doesn’t strive to reverse this trend, but he is streamlining the way farmers use this ever-shrinking field of farmland.

What’s the Big Idea? 

Grapes harvest. Farmers hands with freshly harvested black grapes.

Vine Rangers—Baeza’s relatively young startup—uses drones to monitor and observe vineyards to provide farmers with data that can help them become more efficient. 

Based in wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley, Vine Rangers maintains one simple goal, according to Baeza, “higher quality grapes with higher yield and the same amount of farmland.”

The company’s bold ambition is the product of an educated methodology, which includes practices as small as observing water saturation in vineyard soil, and as large as redefining our global approach to crop optimization, or “croptimization.” Baeza began crafting his business after having a few simple conversations. 

How it Started

“My kids went to school with winemaker’s kids,” Baeza said. “I’d go to events and talk to the parents. They’d explain some of the problems they were having with farming, or on the vineyard.” Baeza noticed a trend amongst farmers and their struggle to effectively fix various issues with their crops. “Finally, in April [2014], I decided to start the business, because I saw all of this opportunity in technology, and winemaking, and farming.”  

Aerial view to countryside landscape with saw mill in pine forest nearby Dobrany in Czech Republic, Europe.

David interviewed farmers about the issues they were and weren’t noticing and that’s where he, “kind of stumbled upon drones and using infrared imaging and cameras to detect all of these different things.” To get it all moving, David began “looking for somebody who has a particular skill set with robotics and technology.”

He found Dr. Ashu Natraj out of Oxford, who became Vine Rangers’ co-founder.

The two have since embarked on a pilot program with Saarloos & Sons, and Firestone Vineyards. The one major takeaway from the Vine Rangers’ ongoing project is that the drones are only part of the equation.

“For us, the drones are just a method of capturing data,” David said. “All they’re doing is flying over and picking up the pieces. The question then becomes, what do you do with that data?”

Varna, Bulgaria - June 22, 2015,: Flying drone quadcopter Dji Phantom 2 with digital camera GoPro HERO4, over beautiful lavender field in Provence

Quantifying Vineyards

In the several months that the Vine Rangers’ pilot program has been working, it’s evolved from an information gathering source into a full-service program that takes winemakers’ feedback and drone data to advise and guide optimal farming.

The personalization that different winemakers bring to the equation defines an approach that David has dubbed, Quantified Vineyard. He equates the philosophy to the Quantified Self collaboration and the growing trend of self-tracking. Using the product FitBit as an example, David believes that one tool can offer dynamic, personalized— or in Quantified Vineyard’s case, location-specific—information to help guide healthier living.

“Without interactivity from the farmer, the data itself is pretty much useless. I mean it’s interesting, but it doesn’t become an indispensable tool,” Baeza said. “Otherwise, it’s like me trying to take your health data and use it to get healthier myself.”

Close up shot strawberry with rural view of planting strawberry and mountain background

Diversification and Saving the World

The Vine Rangers’ proactive and educated approach has the potential to help winemakers grow more grapes on the same amount of property, using less water and fewer pesticides. With that end goal of service in mind, David Baeza and the Vine Rangers are looking forward. Baeza elaborated on his overall vision for us:

“What we’ve learned in wine can apply to food crops across the globe, because they’re not making more farmland,” Baeza said. “Especially in the US, farmland is pretty much tapped out. Most is coming from emerging countries, and even that, they’re clearing a huge amount for cattle. You talk now about vegetables… the overall amount in the world is shrinking.”

Once the Vine Rangers graduate from their current pilot program, Baeza wants to push forward from wine to avocados to strawberries.

From David’s vision of our shrinking agricultural resources to President Obama’s recent climate accord agreement with China to the forewarning vision of a starving future shown in the recent film Interstellar, great minds recognize that the world is changing. 

With such a long road to travel, Baeza’s approach with the company begins and ends with farmers. When asked how they’ve have reacted to the pilot program, Baeza said, “They see that it’s not just a promise, but it’s a reality.”

Vine Rangers from David Baeza on Vimeo.

Learn more about Vine Rangers. Follow David Baeza on Twitter at @DavidBaeza