Family-Owned Business between Tradition and Innovation: Christmas Magic with Drones!
What’s Christmas without a beautiful Christmas tree? Whether it’s a Nordmann Fir or a good old Norway Spruce, putting up a Christmas tree is one of the most magical moments of Christmas season. But during the rest of the year, most of us don’t give Christmas trees much thought. Luckily, the people at Noble Nordmann do.
They produce Christmas trees and spend months in the forests throughout the year to make sure only the best ones make it to our homes. And the way they do it is spectacular.
Tradition Meets Technology: Analyzing and Counting Christmas Trees with Drones
Sune Enevoldsen is a field manager at Noble Nordmann, and his job is to optimize the production costs and the quality of the trees on their farms in Scotland and Denmark. Earlier this year, Sune and his team started to look for a way to get a better overview of their production.
Up until now, they had to walk their fields manually in order to obtain information on the number and the quality of the trees. And with a growing number of fields, manual scouting is becoming increasingly difficult. “It’s time consuming, labour intensive and not that accurate,” says Sune.
They then started to look for alternatives to manual scouting, and one option caught their eye in particular: drone technology.
It seemed amazingly simple: make pictures of your field using a drone and run the map through a software which scans your field for whatever you need: diseases, the number of trees, weed. Which is exactly what Noble Nordmann needed.
Christmas Trees — Great Things Take Time
Annual plants such as corn or wheat are sown and harvested within one year. As opposed to this, Christmas trees grow between 5 to 12 years until they are ready to cut. And with such a long growing period, it’s vital to keep a close and regular watch on the quantity and the quality of your trees.
So, what Value Does Drone Data add to the Christmas Tree Production?
On the one hand, professional Christmas tree producers like Noble Nordmann use drone maps to count trees and update the stock count, which is more accurate and a lot faster than counting the trees manually. On the other hand, drone data can be used to evaluate the quality ratio and see where trees are healthy and where they need fertilizer.
What’s more, drone maps help with optimizing the planting distance. “The trees need room to grow into a quality tree. If they stand too close they destroy each other and lower the quality. It’s a balance between space and quantity. With the [drone] data we are able to improve the optimal planting distance,” says Sune.
Armed with this kind of powerful data, the Noble Nordmann team can label trees and decide which ones to cut. With less work, and more accuracy.
Example: a Bird’s-eye View of the Birdsong Field
Noble Nordmann’s recent plant population analysis of their Fuglesang field (Danish for Birdsong) is a good example of the benefits of using drones in agriculture and forestry. The Fuglesang field is one of Noble Nordmann’s fields in Denmark and has a group of broadleaves in the center of it as well as an old dig site for peat:
The drone-based analysis they performed was supposed to count the plant population and determine the impact of the broadleaf center after grading the trees in the field.
To obtain a quality map, Sune used his Mavic pro and set the flight altitude to 45 meters and used a 75% overlap. The flight time was 12 minutes, while setting up the drone and processing the map took around 2 hours. This is more than twice as fast than manual techniques: Without a drone, this would take “2 men and 3 hours and the numbers would be inaccurate,” says Sune.
The following plant population analysis, performed by simply uploading the drone map to the drone data processing software platform Agremo revealed that there were 15.578 trees in total:
Sune explained how this information translates into concrete business decisions: “Out of the 15.578 trees in the field, 2500 are graded and will be sold this year. This is 16% of the total field. Our aim is 20% cut trees. The broadleaves caused problems to the Christmas trees that stand in the shade and the quantity was lower than expected.”
Besides looking incredibly cool, the business benefits of drones seem to be evident, as Sune explains:
“Drone maps and stand counts are a very interesting way to work with Christmas trees. The best thing is the accuracy. To check the results, I put the file into GIS and it shows the work of the algorithm. (..) The accuracy is splendid and this is very important.”
Drones — Environmentally Friendly and Economic Helpers
The business side of drones in agriculture in forestry is exciting and has a lot of potential. But another point which is becoming more and more important is that not only plants and trees have to stay green — the workflow needs to stay green as well. And drones are a great alternative to environmentally harmful methods in agriculture and forestry, as DroneLife recently pointed out.
Headquartered in technology-friendly Denmark, whose environmental strategy is to create a green and sustainable society, Noble Nordmann recognized the potential of drones in this aspect:
“[Drones] use the space above the trees, and once you start to use that, it is obvious that only the sky’s the limit. Some of our farms contain hills and wet patches. The drone can cover a lot of ground regardless of hills (…) and work without leaving tracks. This opens up for a new way of running a forest or a farm.” — Sune Enevoldsen, Noble Nordmann
And this is not always easy. In the beginning, Sune and his team found it difficult to find the right software:
“The software side of using drones is a jungle,” says Sune. He recommends sticking to proven solutions: “Use systems like DroneDeploy and Agremo. And keep all the flight data on an external hard drive with plenty of space.” And, in terms of using drones in Christmas fields, “be aware of tall trees around the plantation.