You may not expect to find lasers being used by a nursery growing shade trees, but this may become commonplace as new technology is being released that will improve the efficiency of chemical applications. After a decade of research and development, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Technology Transfer has signed a licensing agreement for the Intelligent Spray Control System, or what has become known locally as “the smart sprayer.”
Why Build a Smart Sprayer?
Smart Guided Systems, a company from Indianapolis, Indiana, is currently taking orders for this technology which is available as a retrofit for existing spray machinery making it much more efficient. According to Dr. Heping Zhu, Agricultural Engineer, USDA-Agricultural Research Service Application Technology Research Unit, “Concerns about application efficiency motivated our research. Our studies have shown that only 30 percent of spray volume in conventional nursery applications is deposited on target trees and 34 percent of total spray volume is lost on the ground. The intelligent sprayer gives growers a targeted application with improved spray coverage.” This is a great example of precision agriculture!
Steve Booher, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Smart Guided Systems said, “We are honored and excited to commercialize this remarkable technology. The USDA and a team of researchers have focused on optimizing application efficiency for sprayers. We want to bring to growers a system that can be added to their existing sprayers that has been proven to reduce chemical costs by 47 percent to 73 percent while achieving the same or better effectiveness.”
Clackamas County Growers Played a Valuable Role in the Trials
Although this technology was developed in the Midwest, it has been tested in a number of locations across the country. Oregon is one of those locations. Robin Rosetta, Nursery Integrated Pest Management Specialist for Oregon State University Extension was a principal investigator on the project designing nursery trials. Local nursery growers J Frank Schmidt and Son Co. and Hans Nelson & Son Nursery have been working with Rosetta for 10 years. Rosetta stated, “This project is likely to be the most impactful research with which I’ve been involved over my entire career. And I’ve been able to markedly reduce the use of pesticides for some pests in my 25 years here. But this is every swath down the row . . . every disease, insect, or mite pest being sprayed. This is a game changer.”
In the words of a local grower and Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District board director, Jesse Nelson, who tested the most recent version of the “smart sprayer”, “We are very glad to see this retrofit available to anyone who wants to use it. This technology absolutely gives us much better coverage when we do spray and we use so much less pesticide now that used to be wasted before with our old sprayer. It is great!”
For nursery producers who have been waiting patiently for the smart sprayer technology to become available, the wait is over! Smart Guided Systems is now accepting preorders for the retrofit and will deliver the add-on kit in early 2019.