New USDA/OSU Crop Sprayer Reduces Drift And Input Use

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The intelligent sprayer can discharge variable spray rates based on plant structure needs.

The intelligent sprayer can discharge variable spray rates based on plant structure needs.

Growers looking to save money by reducing the use of crop protectants while maintaining efficacious pest control may have an answer in a newly designed intelligent sprayer. According to Ohio State University (OSU), the sprayer, collaboratively developed and tested by USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Application Technology Research Unit and OSU Extension, promises to reduce the use of crop protectants by up to 73% while lowering off-target contamination.

In a conversation with Heping Zhu, a USDA agricultural engineer and scientist who leads the new sprayer development, he shares that the technology has been in development for eight years, and has been tested on a variety of tree crops, as well as in vineyards, orchards, and nurseries. The research unit is still working on adapting the technology for use on vegetable and greenhouse crops, and plans on finalizing the technology for vegetable growers in a few more years.

Design Details

Honing in on the details of the sprayer’s design, Zhu states that the sprayer works by using laser technology to detect the location, size, shape, and density of the plant and foliage, adjusting the spray outputs automatically as plants need. It only sprays when it detects a plant or tree in sight, significantly reducing the amount of crop protectant needed.

It contains a total of 40 nozzles and each nozzle output can be adjusted independently as necessary based on the plant structure and foliage density, which vary at different stages of plant development.
In addition, a few more of the sprayers’ benefits are:
• Reduced chance of over applying crop protectants;
• Increased consistency of spray deposition uniformity inside canopies at different growth stages;
• Increased spray trajectory control;
• Less spray loss beyond tree canopies (40% to 87% less loss);
• 47% to 73% reduction in spray consumption; and
• A 68% to 93% reduction in spray loss on the ground.

Reduce Costs, Drift

Perhaps one of the most exciting and practical benefits for growers is the reduced cost that the sprayer offers in terms of money saved on crop protectants. Zhu says that growers can expect to save upwards of $250 per acre, per year.

Reduced spray drift is another critical benefit this technology brings to the market. According to Zhu, the technology promises to reduce airborne drift by up to 87%.

Furthermore, the sprayer prevents growers from having to constantly re-enter the field to refill their tanks, which can be both time consuming and create additional environmental hazards from tracking back and forth.

The research for the sprayer was conducted in commercial nurseries in Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee through collaborations among USDA-ARS, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, and University of Tennessee, and was made possible by a $1.82 million grant from USDA.The unit is currently available tobe commercialized by sprayer companies.

Alexander is the Associate Editor for American Vegetable Grower magazine and Productores de Hortalizas, both Meister Media Worldwide publications.
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