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Intelligent Spray Systems for Floral and Ornamental Nursery Crops


The objective of this research is to develop two advanced and affordable spray systems that employ intelligent technologies to continuously match system operating parameters to crop characteristics, insect/disease pressures and microclimatic conditions during pesticide applications. <P>The first system will be an air-assisted variable-rate sprayer used for nursery tree crops. The second system will be a hydraulic boom variable-rate sprayer used for flowering container plants in greenhouses and woody ornamentals in the field. <P>Due to the similarities in crop structures, use of the first system can be expanded to other specialty crops such as fruit trees and vineyards, and the second system can be expanded to berries and vegetables. <P>The advanced sprayers include five major modules: (a) a data acquisition and control unit comprised of simplified laser scanning sensors to characterize crop shape, canopy density, plant volume, and the fine structures of foliar surfaces integrated with an electronic control system to control spray outputs based on the crop characteristics; (b) an expert subsystem to incorporate real-time microclimatic conditions and pest prediction models to determine application decisions; (c) an off-target recovery unit to trap sprays not retained on the target areas; (d) a direct in-line injection unit to proportionate chemicals as needed and eliminate leftover disposal problems; (e) an air-assisted spraying system containing multi-jet nozzles to deliver air and liquid with variable rates for tree crops, and an hydraulic boom spraying systems to deliver variable-rate liquids for floral greenhouse plants and woody ornamentals. <P>These modules can be used or disassembled independently from the spray systems depending on crop production requirements. The cost of the new spray system may be up to $8500 more than that of a conventional spray system; however, because of increased application efficiency, the initial cost would be offset by more than a 50% reduction in the amount of pesticide use, resulting in a major savings in both materials cost and environmental risk. <P>Floral and ornamental nurseries will be the primary beneficiaries as a result of achieving the objective, as well other specialty crops including orchards, vineyards, berries, and vegetables. Pesticide applicators and sprayer manufacturers will have access to safe, reliable and user-friendly sprayers that deliver pesticides more economically, accurately, timely and in an environmentally sustainable manner with minimum human involvement before, during and after applications. <P>This research will provide critical new technology to increase application efficiency and reduce the uncertainty associated with current pesticide delivery systems used in floral and nursery as well as other specialty crop production. Anticipated products of the research will be: new precise spray systems to accurately and effectively deliver pest control agents to target areas, innovative pesticide spray technologies and strategies for efficient and economical pest control, healthy and marketable products with minimal off-target loss and worker exposure, and increased our food safety and security.

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Non-Technical Summary: Current application technology for floral, nursery, and other specialty crop production wastes significant amounts of pesticides. Innovative new spray technologies would benefit the production of these crops and institutes with on-going or future SCRI- funded projects. The proposed research is to develop two affordable intelligent spray systems for floral and nursery crops, and these developments are adaptable to other specialty crops. The proposed systems have five major modules: (a) first, an intelligent acquisition and control unit continuously characterizes size, shape, foliage density, foliar surface, and target crop location, ultimately controlling spray output; (b) an expert computer subsystem incorporates microclimatic conditions with pest prediction models for selection of formulations and application schedules to control specific insect/disease problems; (c) an in-line unit injects predetermined concentrates into a carrier near the nozzles, avoiding leftover tank mixtures; (d) then, in either system, a delivery subsystem with an array of multi-jet nozzles is incorporated capable of variable air and liquid discharge rates; and lastly, (e) an off-target recovery unit traps sprays not retained on the crop. Moreover, depending on crop requirements, each module can be used or disassembled independently. With these systems, pest pressures and crop structures govern the amount, kind and frequency of spray applications, avoiding excessive spray-mixture and off-target waste. At completion, the proposed project enhances the prospects that future sprayers will be more efficient, reliable, and operator-friendly. These sprayers will deliver pest control formulations in an economical, accurate, timely and environmentally sustainable manner, with optimal human and operator safety. <P> Approach: In cooperation with The Ohio State University, University of Kentucky, Oregon State University, floral and nursery growers, and private sprayer manufacturers, the ATRU will develop two intelligent expert precision spraying systems comprised of five main modules to deliver pest control agents in an economical, accurate, timely and environmentally sustainable manner, with optimal human and operator safety. Research by our team will use several proven technology usage assessment techniques to document on-the-ground challenges that affect the design and adoption of such systems. Theme-mapping strategies in key informant interviews and listening sessions will be used to identify design concerns and to quantify acceptable levels of direct and indirect costs. Experts will be selected from a sample of engineers, representatives of equipment manufacturers, horticultural firm managers, and front-line spray applicators. The information derived from this research will be shared with extension educators and sprayer manufacturers across the country, enabling them to teach growers how to properly use the new spray technology. The first system will be an air-assisted variable-rate sprayer for use in shade, flowering and ornamental trees in nurseries. The second system will be a hydraulic boom variable-rate sprayer for flowering container plants in greenhouses and woody ornamentals in nurseries. Due to the similarity of crop structures, the first system can be used to spray other specialty crops such as fruit trees and vineyards, and the second system can be used on berries and vegetables. The five modules will be: (a) a sensor-controlled unit to control spray outputs that match specific floral and nursery crop structures and foliar characteristics, (b) an expert subsystem to assist the decision making process of choosing proper chemicals and application schedules as determined by local, ambient microclimatic conditions and applicable pest models, (c) a direct in-line injection unit to inject measured amounts of concentrated chemicals to individual nozzles to eliminate sprayer tank leftover disposal problems, (d) a basic mechanical sprayer unit to provide storage tanks, pumps and fans for spray operations, and (e) an off-target recovery unit to prevent off-target losses including drift beyond target areas. All five operations will occur simultaneously as the sprayers move past the canopy, providing uniform spray coverage of the canopy with minimal pesticide use and off-target loss beyond the target area. These modules can be used and disassembled independently from the spray systems depending on the specific crop production circumstances. The two intelligent spray systems will be evaluated under actual commercial floral and nursery field conditions and growers will provide inputs into the entire system development process for this proposal to meet the goals of the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.

Zhu, He Ping
USDA - Agricultural Research Service
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