The Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) tool is one of the best unintentionally kept secrets in the tree fruit industry for customizing spray canopies.
The LIDAR, which is fully developed for its intended applications, has been tested in a research environment for the past 10 years, and is on the cusp of being used for commercial purposes in agriculture. While no growers have used the LIDAR commercially yet, some companies may soon fly airborne systems and offer the resultant images of the canopy.
The LIDAR is a good tool for visualizing spray activity because it allows growers to measure the concentration of tree canopy and the air surrounding it. The tool contains a laser that is transmitted, triggering a reflection of light that, via its intensity, indicates what type of mass has been hit. The amount of light is relative to the target, creating a visual image of the ideal dimensions for the spray cloud. Some versions of the LIDAR work both horizontally and vertically, which enables them to determine the appropriate size of the entire cloud.
By targeting the canopy, the LIDAR can help improve efficacy and reduce drift. However, it does not currently offer any quantitative information. To remedy this, Dr. April Hiscox, post-doctoral fellow at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, has been working on modifying the system to determine droplet size, in order to improve efficacy even further. “It is something we have been thinking about for awhile. It is theoretical at this point. In a few years, we hope to develop the technology to accomplish this goal,” she says.
Air quality is becoming an area of concern for tree fruit growers. To address this issue, Hiscox and her colleagues have been using the LIDAR in trials for agriculture air quality monitoring, albeit on a smaller scale than the other uses being studied.
In Europe, researchers have been using the LIDAR to measure tree density. If the LIDAR senses a gap between trees, the tool will not spray that section. If the presence of a canopy is indicated by the LIDAR, the tool will set off a signal to spray. Researchers in Europe are also using it to generate a detailed visualization of the canopy and how it changes over time.