Applying Precision Agriculture To Tree Fruit

The Faces Of Extension: Jim McFerson

How are pruning and fruit thinning like precision agriculture? In tree fruit, pruning has long been considered an art, requiring the skill of a surgeon and the insights of a poet. Fruit thinning is viewed as an excruciatingly tedious and expensive hand process, and/or a spray program relying on hunches and wishful thinking.

Precision ag is the opposite, relying on accurate measurement, statistics, and modern technological tools. More like a robot with a two-year degree in agronomy who doesn’t care about the weather or time of day.

Precision ag conjures up images of a very large GPS-equipped tractor dispensing a variable rate application of seed, fertilizer, lime in a very large corn field, or perhaps a GIS-based brightly colored aerial map diagramming soil types and drainage patterns, or a photographic image of relative vegetative vigor generated in an aerial flyover or even via satellite.

It would seem that precision ag, in which we seek to measure and manage variation at the field level, has such tremendous potential for tree fruit, since the cost (and potential return) on our input and management investment per unit area are so much higher than extensive crops like corn, wheat, and cotton.

Additionally, the cost of management inaccuracies or inefficiencies in the early years of orchard establishment are compounded annually, so it would seem even more attractive to understand, characterize, and account for site variability from the get go.

Yet, precision ag remains largely conceptual for tree fruit.

Perhaps part of the problem is that precision ag has tended to highlight the use of tools like satellite imagery, information technology, and geospatial analysis, with a particular emphasis on satellite positioning systems like GPS. These tools are of more obvious and immediate application in field crops. In many orchards, for example, the canopy cover prevents reliable connection with satellites necessary for GPS.

If we shift focus, however, to the approach, rather than the tools, it would seem most tree fruit horticulturists are in fact applying the principles of precision ag every day. They have visceral knowledge of their need to measure and manage intra-field variation. In fact, it would be even better if we could manage at the plant to plant, or even the intra-plant level.

Here is where pruning starts to resemble precision ag. And as we finish up pruning in the Pacific Northwest, blessed with a relatively mild winter, we have already completed the first step in precision management. As pomologists have preached for years, crop load management should start early, with pruning.

This step defines the framework for subsequent management of vegetative and reproductive growth in the tree. As the industry moves unilaterally from low- to high-density plantings, pruning actually becomes more predictable and less poetic, but it is still done by hand. It’s not an easy job even when conditions are mild, and every year there are fewer workers willing to perform it. It is a practice that cries out for optimization.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Fruits Stories
Some of Almar Orchard's organic apples were on display outside the farm market at the Scrumpy Skedaddle. After finishing the race, runners were offered their choice of several varieties of fresh apples. (Photo credit: Christina Herrick)
Apples & Pears
September 23, 2016
Growers Encouraged To Monitor Fruit Temperature Going Into Storage
With early harvests, Randy Beaudry of Michigan State University says temperature monitoring is a must. Read More
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS
Berries
September 23, 2016
What U.S. Consumers Think About Florida Blueberries
For growers, the good news is that shoppers like what you are serving up. But more can be done to whet appetites. Read More
Photo credit: USDA
Fruits
September 23, 2016
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Pressure Increasing
Scout and monitor your orchard to determine if control is needed, says Penn State University Extension. Read More
water droplet_generic
Citrus
September 22, 2016
Senate Committee Report Says WOTUS Reforms Needed
A report issued from the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee says federal agencies overreach their authority to regulate Read More
Action shot of an automated strawberry picker from Harvest CROO
Berries
September 22, 2016
Investors Clamoring For Automated Strawberry Picking Technology
Naturipe joins growing list of backers in the labor-saving vision and mission of ag-tech startup. Read More
Closeup of a managed bee hive next to a blueberry field
Berries
September 22, 2016
It Behooves Blueberry Growers To Protect Pollinators
Placing priority on bee care best practices will ensure sweet success for your crop. Read More
Where does the water run? Follow the blue dye as seen during this demonstration in a plastic mulched system.
Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS
Berries
September 20, 2016
How To Track Irrigation: Keep Your Eye On The Blue Dye
Time-tested, color-appropriate method for following water movement in plasticulture veggie crops could prove fruitful in blueberries, too. Read More
The Latest
Fruits
September 24, 2016
Water Woes Continue In Northeast
Hydrologist says this year’s conditions are bad but are part of a typical water cycle. Read More
Fruits
September 23, 2016
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Pressure Incr…
Scout and monitor your orchard to determine if control is needed, says Penn State University Extension. Read More
Citrus
September 22, 2016
Senate Committee Report Says WOTUS Refor…
A report issued from the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee says federal agencies overreach their authority to regulate Read More
Citrus
September 20, 2016
Preventative Control Rules Now In Effect…
Facilities employing 500 or more people must meet new standards. Read More
Citrus
September 20, 2016
EPA Says Glyphosate Not Likely To Cause …
Paper says herbicide not carcinogenic at doses relevant for human health risk assessment. Read More
Farm Management
September 20, 2016
Study Says Produce Imports Good For Texa…
Imports from Mexico would add jobs in the Lone Star State. Read More
Crop Protection
September 19, 2016
Grant Awarded To Rutgers To Study Pollin…
Scientist in the school of Environmental and Biological Sciences receives $2.9 million grant to research bees and other pollinators. Read More
Apple Grower of the Year
September 19, 2016
2016 USApple Conference: Promising Crop,…
Wenatchee, WA grower honored; only blemish on apple crop is the drought that shrank the harvest in the Northeast. Read More
Business Planning
September 19, 2016
American Agricultural Exports Could Feel…
Despite headwinds, the U.S. remains the most stable economy in the world. Read More
Citrus
September 17, 2016
August Was The Hottest In 136 Years
The extended heat wave continues a streak of 11 consecutive months of record-setting temperatures. Read More
Florida Ag Expo
September 16, 2016
2016 Florida Ag Expo To Tackle Productio…
Exotic whitefly, biocontrols, and alternative crops top industry event’s agenda. Read More
Fruits
September 16, 2016
U.S. Farm Productivity Approaching Peril…
Investments in research and Extension required to stay ahead of the competition. Read More
Fruits
September 15, 2016
California Growers May Face More Water C…
State proposal would divert more water to San Joaquin River system to save endangered fish habitat. Read More
Citrus
September 15, 2016
What The Bayer-Monsanto Merger Means Thu…
The deal, subject to regulatory approval, would create the world’s largest agriculture company. Read More
Citrus
September 14, 2016
Bayer Acquires Monsanto After Months Of …
Mega-Merger sealed with $66 billion all-cash transaction. Read More
Farm Management
September 13, 2016
USDA Expands New York Primary Disaster A…
More counties have been added to the original disaster declaration, and more growers are eligible for funding assistance. Read More
Citrus
September 13, 2016
Can CRISPR Carry Agriculture Innovation …
Game-changing technology allows targeted gene modification to fight diseases like citrus greening. Read More
Citrus
September 12, 2016
Historic Farmworker Overtime Law Approve…
California legislation, the first of its kind in the nation, is reviled by grower groups who say it will actually do economic harm to farmworkers. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]