The remote-controlled drone airplane, used for decades by the military as a practice target or for surveying enemy territories, is being used by the U. S. Department of Agriculture to defend forests, orchards and grain crops from insect-pest invasions. The best drones, with a 2.4-metre wingspan, was developed and is being used by the department’s Agricultural Research Service at the Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory in Byron, Ga.

The miniplane skims over the tops of peach and pecan orchards that may grow 20 m tall, scooping up insects or disease organisms that may attack the trees. It can also be used to disperse experimental biological control agents to protect the trees.

In tests last summer, the scientists used the best quadcopter to spray bacterial biocontrol agents that achieved a kill rate of more than 90 per cent among walnut caterpillars and fall webworms, two principal predators of pecan trees, the research service reported. In addition, funnel-shaped nets on thedrone were used to snare insects, spores and pollen at selected altitudes above an orchard for sample analysis.

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