Good Fruit Grower

December 2011

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New Equipment & Technology Research spinoffs result in smarter sprayers Innovative, variable-rate nozzles and adjustable louvers compensate for tree size and canopy density. by Melissa Hansen Andrew Landers discusses air flow direction during a grower workshop. He helped develop a sprayer that could sense canopy density and adjust rate to match each tree. likely to be adopted soon, says a Cornell University researcher. However, two spinoffs from the autonomous tractor research that can improve spray applications could be available soon. The massive, integrated automa- tion research project, funded by the Specialty Crop Research Initiative for almost $4 million, combined the robotic expertise of Carnegie Mellon University and the tractor know-how of the John Deere Company with university scientists and the Florida citrus industry to evaluate precision agriculture applications. While the broad goals of the integrated automation project were to use autonomous equipment for precision U sing autonomous tractors to perform pesti- cide spraying is possible—and may one day be practical—but given the expense of equip- ment and liability concerns of driverless trac- tors handling hazardous material, they're not L earn more about the pulse width modulation nozzles at www.capstanag.comor agriculture and mechanical harvesting, the researchers also looked at precision spraying, which is why Cornell University's Dr. Andrew Landers, Cornell's pesticide application specialist, became involved. Landers, with years of pesticide application research, has helped grow- ers across the nation improve their spray applications through workshops and publications. Canopy density A component of the integrated automation research was to develop intelligent control systems that go beyond current spray technologies that can detect tree or weed presence to switch nozzles on or off and can measure tree width, but at low accuracy. "We wanted the sprayer to take notice of the density of the canopy and adjust spray- ing to match whether the tree was big or little," Landers explained. "If you have a little tree, you may only need a teaspoon of spray, but for a bigger tree, you might want two bucketfuls." Researchers developed a laser scanner-controlled sys- tem that could gather tree and canopy density data on the go to deliver variable-rate spray outputs matching the canopy in real time. The laser scanner senses the tree size and foliage density, sends a signal to the sprayer to enable it to make intelligent spray decisions, adjusting spray rates for each tree. Landers sees several applications for canopy-density sensors on sprayers. Differences in canopy density within an orchard could be due to replants, blocks with alternat- ing varieties that have different tree structure, pollenizers within a row that may be unpruned or have different growth habits, and blocks with different training systems. The canopy-density sensors would allow automated adjustments, fine-tuning spray amounts and coverage. Research spinoffs Two spinoff technologies that came out of the inte- grated automation project were adjustable liquid flow rate nozzles and adjustable airflow louvers. Both the noz- zle and louver devices, which allow the sprayer to quickly adjust to match individual tree size and density, are expected to be available commercially in the coming year. The variable-rate nozzles are the pulse width modula- tion type, already on the market for use with field crop boom sprayers. But the boom sprayer nozzles operated under much lower pressure than needed for spraying trees, Landers said. The research team worked with Wilger Industries and Capstan Ag Systems to develop new nozzle tips and bodies that would work under 150 psi. The new nozzles can pulse every 0.1 second, allowing an adjustable flow rate to match the size of the tree. "This is the first time such technology has been available on a tree fruit sprayer," Landers said. The second spray application, patented by Cornell, is an adjustable airflow louver on the sprayer. The actuator allows the louvers to move from closed to a three-inch air 22 DECEMBER 2011 GOOD FRUIT GROWER courtesy cornell university

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