In the “Austin Powers” movies, Dr. Evil wanted to use lasers for nefarious purposes. In Sweden, they’re using them for berry-picking purposes. (Did you know? Laser is actually short for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.”)
By combining nationwide airborne laser scanning data and data on bilberries and cowberries collected in connection with forest inventories, it’s possible to make small-scale berry yield predictions for all of Sweden, a country about 10% bigger than California. These predictions indicate potential berry picking locations only, though, not berry yields.
When picking berries, knowledge of good locations is key. In this study, this knowledge was generated through remote sensing. Airborne laser scanning is a remote sensing method that produces three-dimensional data from forests. In laser scanning data, the majority of radiated pulses are reflected from the dominant canopy, allowing its detailed description. This is useful in many applications in forest sciences, such as accurate predictions of tree stand volumes. Laser scanning data have also been used to predict the abundance of undergrowth species, but in these cases, the indirect relation between tree stand structure and undergrowth is utilized. The study is based on a similar influence relation: the laser scanning data reflect the structure of the dominant trees which in turn enables the prediction of the presence of berry species and their yields.
In addition to the laser information, the researchers used annual weather statistics, soil data and satellite image interpretations of tree species. These data were used to produce generalized linear mixed-effect models to describe the annual yield of bilberries and cowberries. Grape growers keeping up with the latest technology are likely already familiar with these layered models.
The good news is these models can be used to create maps that show potential berry picking locations. In addition, knowledge of berry yields can be utilized in multi-objective forest management. The bigger picture that comes from this information is that as technology advances in this field – and becomes more affordable – more growers can use it to not only predict yield but also diagnose areas where plants do better or worse, simply using a laser scan.
Published in Forest Ecology and Management, the berry-scanning study was conducted in collaboration between the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the University of Eastern Finland and Natural Resources Institute Finland.
If you really want to nerd out about what lasers are doing for the world of agriculture, I recommend “Recent applications of novel laser techniques for enhancing agricultural production,” a March 2021 study from Mohammad Nadimi and Jitendra Paliwal (University of Manitoba) and Da-Wen Sun (University College Dublin). You can find it at iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1555-6611/abebda.