Innovation in the Sky: Combatting Issues Facing Permanent Crops
| August 11, 2023 |
There are numerous challenges facing the permanent crop industry

“A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.” And let’s face it: no one wants a day without sunshine.

It is estimated that permanent cropland in the United States equates to less than one percent of total land area and just three percent of global agriculture land. With so little land dedicated to this sector of agriculture, optimizing productivity and properly maintaining these operations is critical to their success and longevity.

Managing orchards, vineyards, and other permanent crops requires leveraging tools and resources to combat challenges facing the industry. From pests and disease to environmental issues, permanent crops are subject to a variety of issues that can impact the crops’ health and performance – and because of the long growth period for trees and vines, understanding stressors and treating them as quickly as possible serves as essential to protect these critical assets.


Pests (& Disease) Get Even the Best of Us

Permanent crops are susceptible to a variety of pests and diseases, which is a problem for the crop’s health and performance – threatening final yields. New pests and diseases seem to surface more regularly, making it difficult to identify and treat them correctly and efficiently. With the key objective being to produce high-quality produce, crop protection measures need to be implemented before the crop is damaged.

However, with recent supply chain issues, pest management solutions have become more difficult and costly to obtain. Not only this, but misuse of these remedies to various diseases can result in unwanted resistance and causes environmental concern. Heightened resistance makes pests and diseases more difficult to treat, resulting in more damage to your crops and higher input costs.

The misuse of these herbicides and pesticides can result in a negative impact on our environment. Poor application can lead to leaching, drift, and erosion; contaminating neighboring fields, water supplies, and other unwanted areas. And, in efforts to reduce agriculture’s footprint on the environment, proper input application and management is key in limiting potential emissions and pollution.

Between higher prices and limited supply and the effects that these chemicals can have on the environment, there has been a push to opt for more precise application. By pinpointing areas that may be experiencing health concerns or not meeting key growth milestones, you can better direct your attention and assess what is occurring. This opens the door to more accurate and precise input use – preserving your resources, time, and money.


Environmental Challenges Facing Permanent Crops

Climate change has created a variety of challenges for agriculture with less than ideal weather conditions that are expected to continue to worsen in the coming years. Throughout the last few years, we have experienced the frequency of extreme weather increasing and worsening, rising temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and other factors stemming from climate change. These issues have posed a threat to end-of-season yields and overall crop health.

Soil is one of the most important factors that contribute to successful and sustainable crop growth. This is where crops intake the majority of their nutrients and water, making quality vital in ensuring the crops’ needs are being met. Like with other crops, poor soil quality causes issues for permanent crop development and productivity. So, maintaining its quality and monitoring its health is extremely valuable in promoting a fruitful future. Poor crop health and growth can be an indicator of soil quality and bring your attention to less-than-ideal conditions or areas.

With drought conditions and scarce water supply, water management and availability has also become a difficult challenge for permanent crops. Soil health and topography are two factors that impact the way water flows and is absorbed within a field. Poor soil retention and management can result in flooding, erosion, and prevent crops from retaining the water they need. And with the rising temperatures and dryness we have dealt with this year, most farmland (permanent crops included) has dealt with moderate or worse drought.  


Uncovering a Solution to these Challenges

So, how can you mitigate the challenges that permanent crops are dealing with?

Advancements in remote sensing technology have resulted in deeper insight into how your crops are performing by assessing their health and growth. By providing an aerial view that can provide a different perspective than what can be seen by the eye, as well as detailed analytics and tree-level measurements, you can dig deeper into your crop acreage to analyze your plant population down to the tree – truly helping you get to the root of the issue. These insights uncovered help you to better understand if your crops are receiving necessary nutrients and water.

Remote sensing helps you to understand your populations and inform input management decisions to protect your investment and secure a more productive and successful year. An aerial view of your orchards, vineyards, or other permanent crop operations provides a clear picture of the tree count. This view shows your field’s uniformity and growth which can assist in informing replant decisions and in getting an accurate number of trees to understand your inventory.

Tree Count analytics from Sentera for permanent crops

Beyond tree count, remote sensing can pick up on key areas of stress including:

  • Identifying areas experiencing drought conditions
  • Indicating areas dealing with pests and disease
  • Uncovering weeds developing and impacting your operation
  • Understanding the impact of extreme weather events on permanent crops

With the help of multispectral indices like Normalized Difference Red Edge (NDRE), remote sensing digs into deeper ag analytics for permanent crops including:

  • Tree Canopy Cover, an indicator of crop performance and health
  • Tree Crop Health, indicates overall crop performance and areas that may be experiencing less-than-ideal conditions to fuel necessary input decisions
  • Tree Stand Count, provides a count of each tree in your field and uncovers where potential replant is needed
  • Tree Flower Cover, monitors the flowering process of your trees to get a glimpse into final productivity and fuel input decisions to increase yields
  • Tree Height & Lodging, helps to gauge crop development and ensure it is at par with the others growth


Implementing remote sensing technology into your permanent crop operations can better inform key decisions, indicate potential yields, and uncover a better understanding of your crops. These accurate and timely insights and decisions can result in a more productive, profitable, and sustainable future.

With increasing demands and the appeal of implementing more sustainable practices, leveraging advancements in ag technology can be crucial in optimizing your permanent crop operations productivity and profitability.

Want to learn more about remote sensing's role in permanent crops? Watch our on-demand webinar, Assessing Tree Health with Aerial Imagery.
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