Colin Geel, drone pilot for Aerobotics, checks the drone before take-off.



High tech is being combined with ancient natural remedies at one of South Africa’s best-known wine farms, where buzzing benefactors are helping to keep the vineyards pest-free.


Vine mealybug

The target of these tiny heroes is mealybugs, which spread a disease known as leaf roll virus. This disease is much more apparent in red wine cultivars, but also affects white wine cultivars. Leaf roll virus diminishes the quality and volume of the harvest and eventually the vines become uneconomical and must be uprooted – yet another burden for a sector that is already under severe financial constraints.


Vergelegen Tasting Centre


Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West, which has won numerous accolades for pioneering environmental initiatives, is testing the use of drone-delivered beneficial insects to control pests in its vineyards.


The 324-year-old estate is working with South African venture, SkyBugs, which is a partnership between FieldBUGS, which supplies the predatory bugs, and agritech company Aerobotics, which collaborates with a network of drone pilots to disperse the insects accurately.Some 130 hectares of vineyards will receive beneficial insects via drones.

The actual method of insect release involves flying a drone 30 metres above a vineyard block.


The drone hovering over the vineyards

The drone releases insects by utilising a motor-driven mechanism equipped with a cartridge and a drawn-out plastic film, effectively releasing the insects onto the vines. Each flight covers up to 20 hectares, after which the drone is landed, and a new battery and cartridge of insects are inserted.

The insects are dispersed while in the pupa life stage (between immature and mature insect) and hatch after several days, depending on the weather.

Beneficial insects, in a carrying material, are loaded into the cassette cells.

The first stage is distributing predatory wasps, which are attracted by a pheromone released by female mealybugs. This proactive measure is supplemented with the selective distribution of ladybugs, which can eat 100-200 mealybugs daily.

.Predatory wasps fly no more than 90 metres daily, so drone dispersal improves the likelihood of the wasps locating mealybugs. Beneficial insects can also be released onto high trees near vineyards, where mealybugs normally escape detection. The use of insect pupa on plastic film saves the cost of tube packaging, and offers better value for money.



Vergelegen sustainability: