Disease-detecting drones in the wine industry

It’s the off-season at Moldova’s Mircesti Winery, but Silvia Ganciariuc is hard at work in the fields, pruning grapevines.

Woman standing in vineyard holding pruning shears (Colby Gottert for USAID)
Silvia Ganciariuc works in the fields, pruning grapevines at Moldova’s Mircesti Winery. (Colby Gottert for USAID)

Summer feels a long way away, but the workers know that harvest time will come quickly. Soon the entire team will be working extra hours to pick the grapes as they ripen.

Wine is at the heart of Moldova’s heritage and modern economy. It provides income to over 200,000 people and makes up 5% of all exports from the country.

Rows of vines extending into the distance (Colby Gottert for USAID)
Moldova’s Mircesti Winery (Colby Gottert for USAID)

However, Moldova’s wine industry is facing a major threat: a fast-spreading, incurable disease called Flavescence dorée. Highly contagious, it can quickly wipe out an entire vineyard, threatening the livelihoods of many Moldovans.

Mircesti Winery’s owner, Arcadie Fosnea, doesn’t have time to walk down his rows of vines, checking each plant for signs of disease. Fortunately, this season he won’t have to.

In partnership with the Moldovan government, the U.S. Agency for International Development created a pilot program using aerial drones to survey the country’s vines and detect the disease before it spreads.

The drones are equipped with special cameras that can capture information about disease infection in each plant. This technology replaces existing manual methods of disease detection and can improve detection accuracy up to 85%.

Woman standing between walkway and fence, holding log in metal tub (Colby Gottert for USAID)
Silvia Ganciariuc is able to provide wood for her home thanks to working at the winery. (Colby Gottert for USAID)

Mircesti Winery is the main employer in Mircesti. Now with the drone project in place, Fosnea recently told employees that he plans to double his workforce, boosting the economy and opening the door for job growth, stability and self-reliance in the village.

“Everyone wants to have a job at home in the village,” says Fosnea, thinking about the people in his community who have been forced to move or travel long distances in search of jobs.

Man holding up wine glass containing dark liquid (Colby Gottert for USAID)
Mircesti Winery owner Arcadie Fosnea inspects some wine. (Colby Gottert for USAID)

After a hard day’s work out in the fields, Ganciariuc and her friend Valentina warm themselves by the fire and enjoy a few minutes of relaxation before the end of another long day.

“We also allow ourselves to drink a glass of Moldovan wine,” laughs Valentina, “because we work on vineyards and it is a shame not to serve a little.”

A longer version of this article is available at USAID/Exposure.