Artificial pollination of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) using a platform mounted robotic pollination system (drone)

Z.F.R. Ahmed, M.A.S. Alyafei, A. Al Dakheel, M. Almoosa
Traditional pollination of date palms is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Thus, developing a quick, efficient, low-cost pollination approach that results in commercial yield is necessary. Although the use of pollinator drone technology has recently been investigated, no field trials on date palm have yet been conducted. Therefore, the objective of this study was to develop an effective strategy for utilizing drones in date palm pollination using water-suspended pollen grains (3 g L-1), as well as to examine its impact on fruit set, total yield, and fruit quality. During the 2021 season, date palms of ‘Lulu’ cultivar were pollinated using traditional hand pollination (HP), hand spray pollination (HS) 3 g L-1, and drones spray pollination (DS). Fresh pollen from the same source were used for the three pollination methods. A single trained person flew the drone twice during the season to pollinate a row of ten palms in 120-150 s with 10 L of water-suspended pollen grains (3 g L-1). The collected results revealed that fruit set percentages differed significantly between pollination methods, with 70.2, 81.4, and 92.1 for DS, HS, and HP, respectively. There were no significant differences between pollination methods regarding fruit set efficiency. Fruit retention per strand varied significantly, with 71.3, 81.5, and 92.6% for the DS, HS and HP, respectively. At harvest, the DS had significantly lower bunch weight and fruit number bunch-1 (11.1 kg, 1173) compared to HS (12.3 kg, 1392) and HP (12.8 kg, 1456), while the DS fruit weight was significantly higher (9.5 g) than HP (8.1 g) and HS (8.2 g). Moreover, fruit physiochemical attributes showed no significant difference between methods. These results indicate the possibility of pollinating ‘Lulu’ date palms using drones without further need for fruit thinning later in the season. ‎Nevertheless, more research is needed to develop programming pollination drones to behave autonomously to be used commercially in date palm producing regions.
Ahmed, Z.F.R., Alyafei, M.A.S., Al Dakheel, A. and Almoosa, M. (2022). Artificial pollination of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) using a platform mounted robotic pollination system (drone). Acta Hortic. 1342, 299-306
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2022.1342.42
date palm, pollination, drone, fruit set, production

Acta Horticulturae