We asked four local guys four questions and here is what they said.


1. What do you look for in an aerial imagery company or system?

GROWER #1:  Efficiency and reliability are important because if they can’t make it to your field for the month or their turn-around time on imaging is weeks out, they are no help.  Also the amount of products they offer.  Water stress, thermal, NDVI and infrared images are all helpful.

GROWER #2:  Quality image, with a user-friendly interface, with strong support and non-aggressive sales people.

Resolution of the camera, what types of cameras (ie IR, Thermal, RGB, Hyperspectal).
What platform that the images are released to.  Online, ftp download, etc.
Any additional software to process the images.
Typical imaging services today that are using satellite or fixed wing aircraft give good data, but a limiting factor could be you are at the mercy of their flight schedule and possibly other circumstances like the smoke that could hinder the flight.

CONSULTANT #4:  The minimum I expect from an aerial imagery product is affordability, timeliness, accessibility, accuracy, and consistency.  For my purposes, descriptive statistics and graphics are additionally beneficial, as are tools for measuring distance and area.  Ultimately, aerial images ought to serve as a communication hub for my clients, myself, and their other service and materials providers about events in vineyards and where they are happening.


2. What are you currently using aerial imagery for with any success?

GROWER #1:  I use it for water stress images to help identify irrigation inefficiencies and areas and blocks that might be getting too much water.  We pressure bomb our vineyards as much as we can around the same time as aerial images are being taken.  Sometimes we might be a day ahead or behind but so far, the pressure bomb samples seem to be similar to the images.  We have also used the NDVI images to help us identify areas in a field with higher amounts of esca or virus.  I’ve used aerial images to figure out how far mite damage had spread into a vineyard as well.

GROWER #2:  Strong/weak-area identification to improve uniformity and for preplant decision making, irrigation system issues, water stress.

GROWER/CONSULTANT #3:  This is a very difficult question, because I have not yet been able to quantify the worth of using imagery.  However, I believe there is value in having a recorded snapshot of the field – particularly when you start to see problems arise.  For example when a spot in the field starts to die, you have evidence of where exactly it is and the size of it.  You can then use that as a baseline to show the rate of growth in additional years or use it to navigate to when the field is dormant or taken out and further testing is required.

CONSULTANT #4:  I currently use aerial imagery for weekly (when available) vineyard monitoring of canopy condition (NDVI) and temperature (thermal) as an aid to vineyard management decisions involving applied resources, including water, labor, and machinery.  Periodically, I will use aerial images to discern unusually high levels of vineyard variability and sometimes, to follow the effects of remedial measures to correct it.


3. What advice would you give a grower who wants to try an aerial imagery service?

GROWER #1:  Do not waste your time with drones unless you have very small acreages. Anything over 5 acres I would recommend a fixed wing aircraft.  Look into what kind of software/App the company provides because in the end it needs to be user friendly and adaptable so that the images make sense to you.

GROWER #2:  The cost of one flight is not that expensive.  Have 3 companies fly your block in the same week to compare the images, cost and service.  Multiple flights are interesting but can quickly get overwhelming.  If you are going with multiple flights limit it to 6/year to start.

GROWER/CONSULTANT #3:  Try it!  With the relatively low cost I would suggest trying it to get some familiarity with the technology.  No one set of cameras, or flight platform, or software are the hands down best.  Depending on what you want to get out of the image you will probably be seeking different service providers or capturing images yourself.  But before you know exactly what you need you have to start with something.

CONSULTANT #4:  I advise growers who are interested in aerial imagery to use it regularly and consistently.  That is the only way to become comfortable and competent with it and acquire a return on the aerial image investment.


4. Any other comments?

GROWER #1:  Some aerial imagery companies can be very expensive.  It is a helpful tool but not the silver bullet.  If it’s not in your budget don’t sweat not having it.

GROWER #2:  The technology and companies change quickly.  It is easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed.  If you have a company that you like, stick with it and ignore the noise.

GROWER/CONSULTANT #3:  You can look at aerial imagery like golf clubs.  Depending on what you are trying to achieve you may need a different club.  If I am looking for an immediate image to show flooding across a field, perhaps a personally piloted quad copter with a good RBG camera would do the trick.  But if I want hyperspectral image, a fixed wing aircraft will have to be flown in order to carry the larger camera system.  Depending on what you are trying to gain with the image, it will help determine how to get the image.

I will state what I look for in technology in general with a few questions.

  1. Does the technology increase fruit yields or quality?
  2. Does the technology save time, resources, or operating costs?
  3. Does the technology make a vineyard managers life easier?

The answers to one or more of these questions must be yes for me to be interested.

The Lodi Winegrape Commission and The Vineyard Team co-hosted an Aerial Imagery Workshop in Lodi, CA, in July 2018.  Click HERE for Craig Macmillan’s recap of the event.  In preparation for the meeting, we prepared a Vendor Comparison Chart (see below).

Click HERE to enlarge this Aerial Imagery Vendor Comparison Chart


Several vendors presented details on their imaging systems and how growers can apply their particular technologies to more efficiently manage a vineyard.  Here is a list of Aerial Imagery vendors who attended the meeting and/or provided details for the comparison chart, with contact information:

Ceres Imaging
428 13th St, Suite #200, Oakland CA 94612
George McFadden |
559.825.7008 |

Kevin Spry |
805.748.7153 |

Hawk Aerial, LLC                                                                          
1212 Victoria Dr, Saint Helena CA 94574
Kevin Gould |
425.218.3723 |

Mike Bobbitt & Associates
3001 San Fernando, Atascadero CA 93422
Kelly Bobbitt |
805.466.2920 |

Precision Imagery Corp
9753 Bird Ct, Fountain Valley CA 92708
H David Kellams |
714.330.9732 |

Ray Carlson & Associates – Vineyard Mapping
Walter Moody |
707.528.7649 |

Simplot Grower Solutions – SmartFarm Fresno
205 E. River Park Circle, Suite 210, Fresno CA 93270

7950 Dublin Blvd, Suite 314, Dublin CA 94568
Bob Westbrook |
925.230.9920 |

VineView Scientific Aerial Imaging
PO Box 1141, Saint Helena, CA 94574
Melissa Staid, PhD |
707.965.9663 |

At the end of the meeting, everyone was in for a real treat when Greg Heli (a pilot and a farmer) demonstrated his drone!  He and his sons use this drone to capture photos of his grapevines, to identify areas of the vineyard which need more attention, to check on working crews, and to scare off birds.


For more information and resources, please click here.

There is also great information available on aerial imagery at

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