Imagine flipping a pump switch and all fruit trees in a particular block would be treated via spray nozzles mounted on risers – a solid-set canopy delivery system. That's what researchers at Cornell University, Michigan State University and Washington State University are looking into via a two-year USDA grant.
A crucial part of that research involves apple and cherry growers in New York, Michigan and Washington State. Growers in Michigan and Washington State have already received a survey from Haley Consulting Services. In early 2013, New York growers will be receiving the survey, asking about horticultural practices and orchard characteristics.
Responding to the survey is critical, points out Jean Haley, director of the survey. Growers' responses will help guide the project.
"Entomologists and plant pathologists need to know what the greatest pest and disease challenges are to growers in these areas," she explains. "They also need to know what compounds growers are using to figure out how those compounds can be delivered in the solid set system. We'll also ask about how their orchards are set up, are they trellised or not, what the tree density is, and what kind of sprayer they're currently using."
That information fits directly into how much work it'll be to convert to a solid-set delivery system and the costs of conversion. The solid-set canopy delivery system would be built into an orchard's trellis system to deliver inputs by block or orchard-wide.
There are several inefficiencies in the traditional tractor-sprayer scenario, contends Jay Brunner, entomologist and director of WSU's Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, Wash. The worst is that the orchard manager simply may not have enough equipment to timely cover large orchard acreages in a pest outbreak.
"This system would remove tractor operators from close proximity with pesticides, so there would be even further reduction of health risks than there already is with our modern, soft pest control chemicals," says Brunner. "We may also get better efficacy from existing pest control materials by reducing chemical drift and application rates."
Improving efficacy and reducing pesticide application rates means lower costs for growers. It also means improved environmental safety for orchard workers.