Drones Can Plant Trees Much Faster Than Humans

Drones hover above areas north of Toronto blasting seedpods into the ground. They are planting native spruce and pines trees to restore bird habitat.

Canadian-based Flash Forest hopes to use its technology to plant 40,000 trees in the region. They will plant hundreds of thousands of trees this year as the project extends to other areas. The business aims to plant 1 billion trees by 2028.

This company is interested in helping to save biodiversity and impact climate change. Like others deploying tree-planting drones, Flash Forest believes that technology may help restore forests.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates 1 billion hectares of trees are needed to make an impact on climate. In addition, existing forests must be protected while new trees are planted. There are many diverse approaches to reforestation, however, there is still a net loss of 7 billion trees per year.


Drones and Deforestation

Drones don’t necessarily solve deforestation or climate change. These issues are more complex because older trees store more carbon. However, for reforestation, drones can work faster and cheaper than humans with shovels.

Pilots can presently plant 10,000 to 20,000 seed pods per day. As the technology progresses, that number will increase to around 100,000 trees per day. Conversely, people can typically only plant around 1,500 trees in a day.

The company hopes to reduce the cost per tree to 50 cents, about a fourth of other tree restoration projects.


Planting With Drones

Before planting, the business deploys mapping drones to assess the area. They use data on soil and existing plants to determine the ideal spots to plant.

Then a swarm of drones drops seed pods packed in a proprietary mix. The business claims this mix boosts seed germination weeks ahead of schedule. The seed pods also retain moisture, allowing the plants to withstand months of drought.

In areas with hills or mangrove forests, drones use pneumatic firing devices to send seed pods deeper into the soil. This technology allows the drones to successfully plant in places where humans can’t.


Checking Back With the Trees

After planting, the business checks on the seedlings, going back two months, a year, and three to five years later. The frequency of this process depends largely upon what project they are working on. Nevertheless, if they don’t reach a particular amount of trees, they go back and make sure that they do.

The company’s strategy is to plant a huge number of trees, allowing for some to naturally survive. Therefore, they choose local species and use seed pods to shield seeds from drought. This year’s target is eight species for each planting.

The company also values biodiversity and tries to avoid monocultures by collaborating with local seed banks. Additionally, they anticipate how climate change will affect these trees in five to eight years when they have matured.

Launching only a couple of years ago, Flash Forest developed a functional prototype and began conducting pilot tests. Over a few months, controlled tests have shown good survival rates. They hope to repeat their success in all scenarios.

After the planting near Toronto and another in British Columbia, the business aims to plant 300,000 trees in Hawaii. They’ve also planned additional planting experiments in Australia, Colombia, and Malaysia.

Some tree planting drone companies work with firms that offer tree planting as a donation with the sale of items. In certain areas, there is also a market to help landowners get a tax rebate for planting trees. Overall, there are good economic concepts behind the planting of all those trees.


New Technology Is Needed for the Tree Planting Future

New technology is needed to quickly and easily plant over a trillion trees. It is believed this amount of trees could store over 200 gigatons of carbon.

However, trees in North America take 10-20 years to grow before properly storing carbon. Therefore, to address climate issues by midcentury, the trees must start growing today.

Flash Forest believes drones are necessary to meet our global carbon sequestration goals. After all, with drones, we can now plant trees 10 times faster than humans. They hope to take advantage of this statistic and greatly increase the number of trees living on the planet.


Image Credit: Samuel Theo Manat Silitonga; Pexels; Thank you!

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