A new "intelligent" sprayer designed and developed jointly by engineers from Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service can reduce pesticide use up to 73% by growers while reducing off-target contamination.
The intelligent sprayer can be used by fruit and nursery crop growers to provide more uniform spray coverage and deposition, says Erdal Ozkan, an agricultural engineering professor and spray technology expert with Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
In field experiments with nursery and orchard growers, the intelligent sprayer was found to provide more uniform spray coverage inside canopies with different foliage densities at different growth stages, Ozkan says. While the experiments so far have focused on nurseries, orchards and vineyards, the technology behind the intelligent sprayer can potentially be adapted for other types of sprayers and crops, he says.
"This is the only sprayer of its kind in the world," Ozkan says. "It works by discharging pesticide sprays only when there is a target tree in sight and it matches the pesticide spray rate to the target tree characteristics, including its height and leaf density, in real-time."
With the rising cost of pesticides and fertilizers, growers who want to save money and spray chemicals as efficiently as possible need to make sure they choose sprayers that work as accurately as possible, and get the job done with less use of chemical inputs, he says.
"Conventional orchard sprayers waste a considerable amount of pesticide because they keep a constant application rate throughout the growing season," Ozkan says. "They don't take into account the amount of foliage present at different growth stages.
"But the intelligent sprayer does, using a laser scanner mounted on the sprayer."
By using the laser to detect canopy conditions and an algorithm to determine the amount of spray material needed for a given target type, the intelligent sprayer varies the application rate according to the foliage density on the tree, he says.
"This new technology will significantly reduce the amount and cost of pesticides for growers by accurately targeting spray applications," Ozkan says. "Tests we conducted in an apple orchard showed that the intelligent sprayer reduced spray volume by 47 to 73% with much less off-target loss on the ground, through tree gaps and in the air."