Image of a piece of spraying equipment spraying grape crops

Jul 15, 2024
Smart tech wipes out pests: The latest trends in spraying automation

Innovative spraying technology can help manage pests and diseases threats, which can significantly harm fruit and tree nut crops, affecting yield and quality. The new tech helps ensure healthy trees and abundant production.

Responsible use of spraying technology aligns with sustainable farming practices by protecting crops, conserving resources and minimizing the environmental impact.

After all, targeted spraying allows for precise application of pesticides, reduces the overall amount used and minimizes potential harm to beneficial insects and surrounding ecosystems.

Controlling the application rate

Smart Apply, a kit that can be added to virtually any new or used air blast, over-the-row or GUSS autonomous sprayer, combines LiDAR (light detection and ranging)- powered precision spraying with automated data collection of each spray event, unique in the industry, according to Smart Apply. 

Quote from Smart Apply discussing its agricultural spraying technology

Gary Vandenbark, chief engineer of Indianapolis-based Smart Apply, works with fruit and nut growers in their orchards and was instrumental in creating the Smart Apply System, the development of GEN2 and ongoing enhancements.

“If you think about a tree or vine crop, we’re really trying to spray the foliage or canopy, but everything that has been developed has always been about gallons per acre,” he said. Vandenbark explains how Smart Apply’s LiDAR senses the presence of trees/vines, adjusting spray volume based on size and density of individual plants to optimize protection and avoid over spraying. “You can also generate great savings by not spraying the air or the ground,” he said.

This is the Mini GUSS with Smart Apply integration, it delivers autonomous spraying, precision spraying and offers data collection. Photo courtesy of Smart Apply.
This is the Mini GUSS with Smart Apply integration, it delivers autonomous spraying, precision spraying and offers data collection. Photo courtesy of Smart Apply.

There are numerous operational and sustainability benefits of the system. For instance, Vandenbark noted how Smart Apply reduces chemical use and costs by an average of 50%, water use by an average of 50%, cuts runoff up to 92% and airborne drift by up to 87%.

“We use pulse width modulation and that gives us the ability to do a variable rate application on an individual nozzle basis,” Vandenbark said. “If you have 20 vertical nozzles on each side of the sprayer, we can use the LiDAR to break up the zones as we look at the canopy and utilize the spray nozzles.”

The system was invented in 2006, running by 2009, and tested for 12 years by the USDA before it was commercialized by Smart Apply in 2019 for the industry, so it’s still fairly new.

“We have the ability to count trees, look at density volumes on different areas of the field and things of that sort, look at the tree height and start taking historical data and look at tree growth or density history,” Vandenbark said. “With individual nozzle management, you have the ability to control the application rate relative to location on the tree. So, you can increase or decrease the volume from side to side or top to bottom.”

Smart Apply was designed for apples, stone fruits, pears, grapes, bush berries, tree nut crops and more. Smart Apply runs off of an app and growers can choose from multiple languages, including English and Spanish.

In the mist

For more than 40 years, A1 Mist Sprayers has been perfecting ideal sprayers for eradicating a wide range of diseases and pests that can affect fruit and nut crops.

Quote from A1 Mist sprayers o their equipment

“Our mist sprayers allow you to effortlessly provide uniform coverage on your trees with less chemical and water usage,” said Jon Kulzer, product manager for Ponca, Nebraska-based A1 Mist Sprayer. “With a wide range of models and accessories, our mist sprayers can adapt to fit one’s individual needs.”

In 2024, A1 Mist Sprayers is focusing on continuously enhancing its mist sprayers to be more user-friendly and durable, ensuring they perform season after season.

A1 Mist Sprayers provide uniform coverage on trees with less chemical and water usage. Photo courtesy of A1 Mist Sprayer.
A1 Mist Sprayers provide uniform coverage on trees with less chemical and water usage. Photo courtesy of A1 Mist Sprayer.

“When we began manufacturing mist sprayers, our focus was on PTO (power take-off) options designed for use with tractors,” Kulzer said.“As technology advanced, we expanded our offerings to include gas engines for transportation with ATVs, UTVs and other commercial vehicles. This flexibility allows our users to get the job done based on their available resources.”

One of the biggest benefits of the company’s mist sprayers is their flexibility to mist spray a wide range of applications, regardless of height. Depending on the model, users can mist up to 100 feet and it can be used for all tree care.

“Mist sprayers are crucial as they provide larger, uniform coverage, protecting your investment from diseases, fungus and pests,” Kulzer said. “Additionally, they reduce your use of chemicals and water, providing savings across the board.”

Electrostatic spraying

Willie Hartman, president and CEO of Mt. Angel, Oregon-based OnTarget Spray Systems, noted his company is solely focused on electrostatic spraying in agriculture. OnTarget has designed models for 14 specialty crops.

Quote from OnTarget Spray Systems on its agricultural spray technology

“We have about 45 different models to serve specialty crops,” he said, explaining the sprays harness the gravity-defying power of electrostatic cling to uniformly coat in half the time, with an 80% reduction of water, and less material waste. Plus, more chemical hits the target when it is applied electrostatically, as opposed to conventional sprayers, where more product moves into the atmosphere or runs off on the ground.

“Our sprayers enable farmers to target three specific zones,” Hartman said. The precise and uniform application maximizes chemical efficiencies and optimizes spray effectiveness against plant diseases and insects, he said. 

Innovative spraying technology can help manage pests and diseases threats. Photo courtesy of OnTarget Spray Systems.
Innovative spraying technology can help manage pests and diseases threats. Photo courtesy of OnTarget Spray Systems.

“Sun protection is critical for many crops and our unique uniform coverage gets the job done,” he said. “We also use half as much diesel compared to an air blast and we usually spray two to three times more acres per day, which helps with labor challenges and labor cost. Our customers appreciate the time savings and reduce fuel costs.”

Regardless of the sprayer growers go with, effective pest control will help maximize crop yield by preventing damage from pests and diseases, which can otherwise reduce the quantity and quality of the nuts.

Article written by Keith Loria

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for almost 20 years. View his recent writing at keithloria.contently.com




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