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First-of-a-kind drone swarm technology to restore rangelands


Technology is constantly changing the state of the agriculture industry. Seattle-based DroneSeed and The Nature Conservancy Oregon have signed a contract to utilize drone swarms to restore Oregon rangelands affected by invasive species and re-seed native plants, which is vital to conservation of the ecosystem and imperiled species, like the sage-grouse. The contract with DroneSeed provides The Nature Conservancy access to drone swarm technology designed to scale to plant and protect significant acreage while planting in precision areas to boost survival rates.

The aircraft operate in swarms of up to five drones and as a group service greater area faster despite terrain. To provide precision seeding, the company uses software to aerially deploy seed vessels to targeted areas, called microsites, where they’ll grow best.

To service significant acreage, DroneSeed’s heavy lift aircraft carry 57 lbs. of seed vessels per drone. These vessels improve seed survival by reducing desiccation or ‘drying up,’ which is a common problem on arid rangelands. DroneSeed will be aerially deploying its own proprietary seed vessels and vessels developed by The Nature Conservancy and its partners.

DroneSeed is the first and only company approved by the FAA to operate with swarms of up to five aircraft weighing more than 55 lbs.

Restoration of sagebrush steppe habitat in the western U.S. is a significant challenge. The sagebrush steppe is being lost at an alarming rate – only 50 percent still exists, with the remaining 50 percent at risk of being lost in just the next 50 years. More than 350 species of wildlife depend on this habitat as do rural ranching communities. Both people and nature are challenged by invasive weeds and increasingly large and frequent wildfires. Many groups, such as federal and state governments, NGOs, and the ranching industry are rising to the challenge, but need new tools to be successful. The Nature Conservancy is working across the west to explore new ways to increase success and reduce costs.

The drone swarm technology and its design for scalable planting have future implications. The organization Nature4Climate recently published in a peer-reviewed paper that ‘natural climate solutions’ such as restoring rangelands, planting forests, and conserving habitat could provide 1/3 of the global emissions reductions called for under the Paris Agreement.

DroneSeed’s technology has numerous applications for industry post-wildfire. DroneSeed recently completed its first post-fire forestry project for one of the top five timber companies in the U.S., which was impacted by the Grave Creek Fire near Medford, Oregon which burned over 7,000 acres. Rather than planting seedlings that require a two-year wait to grow in greenhouses, they opted to plant immediately with DroneSeed’s seed vessels and reduce later vegetation clearing costs.

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