Intelligent Sprayer Continues To Impress And Expands To Greenhouse

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The intelligent sprayer, a precision agriculture tool originally designed for use in nursery production, is featured in USDA ARS’ 2019 Annual Report on Science, an honor of distinction reserved for outstanding research developments supported by USDA ARS.

This technology is a rare example of a technology developed specifically for environmental horticulture and then adapted to other crops. The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) and AmericanHort proudly supported every step of its development. The sprayer has since been adopted by other specialty crops, including citrus, apple, pear, pecan, and hazelnut. Other recent accolades include recognition by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers as one of the top 50 new product innovation winner (AE50), and it was selected as the winner of the prestigious 2020 Davidson Prize, awarded to the top AE50 winning products judged to be the most innovative and most likely to have a significant impact on agricultural production, efficiency, or safety. The system was also selected by the World Ag Expo as the Top 10 new product for 2020.

This project serves as a prime example of the far-reaching impacts of HRI-supported research. HRI provided some of the initial funds to jumpstart the project, which was then used to garner additional funds through the USDA ARS Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI) and USDA NIFA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative programs, both supported by HRI. To continue this (and more!) valuable work, please consider a financial contribution to HRI to help us reach our Summer ’20 goal of raising $100,000.

Dr. Heping Zhu, USDA ARS Wooster, designed the Intelligent Spray Control System to help bring precision agriculture to nursery production. A laser on the sprayer first detects tree and shrub canopy. That information then triggers spray nozzles to activate only where plant material is present. The result is that much less spray is required, and spray drift is minimized. Dr. Zhu and his cohorts estimate anywhere from 47-70% reduction in pesticide needs (while still maintaining efficacy); this translates to $140-280 annual cost savings per acre. Beneficial insects also benefit through the significant reduction in pesticide drift – up to 87% reduction in general airborne drift and up to 93% reduction in drift on the ground.
In fall of 2018, the smart sprayer technology was commercialized by an agreement between USDA ARS and Smart Guided Systems, Inc. Orders are being accepted, including an add-on kit option that enables growers to retrofit existing spray equipment is available.

Fear not, controlled environment growers; Dr. Zhu hasn’t forgotten you! One of his more recent projects involves development of a laser sensor-guided spray system for greenhouses for variable rate applications. Part of the funding for the research comes from the USDA ARS Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI) program.

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