Doing More With Less
The focus of our program is on management of insect and plant disease problems on specialty crops (fruits, nuts, and ornamentals), with an emphasis on improving chemical use efficiency. The project was started at The Ohio State University by agricultural engineer Dr. Heping Zhu (USDA-ARS), whose team designed and tested the prototypes and concept models of the Intelligent Spray System. After demonstration of the efficacy of the system focus shifted to develop Intelligent Spray System retrofit kits that can be added to any sprayer designed for use in specialty crops. Retrofit kits have been installed in states across the USA, and researchers within these states are using these sprayers to manage pest and disease issues in crops relevant to their region. Other cooperating universities on the project include: Washington State University, University of California, University of Tennessee, Texas A&M and Clemson University. The Intelligent Spray System is being used in crops such as wine grapes, pecans, apples, hazelnuts, berries, peaches, nurseries and more. The Intelligent Spray System has recently been commercialized and can now be purchased by the public.
Growing Into the Work
I grew up working with plants in the garden and science always interested me. I studied horticulture for my undergraduate degree but when I learned about plant pathology it sounded like the intersection of many of my interests so I pursued it. I came to Oregon State University to pursue my MS where my project focused on improving fungicide selection and application timing to control Grape Powdery Mildew on wine grape clusters. I put a high value on the practical application of science to solve problems, and have worked with growers throughout my MS and current position on the Intelligent Spray project to implement scientific findings and improve agricultural efficiency.
Keeping It Clean
The Intelligent Spray System consists of a LiDAR laser sensor and radar ground speed sensor in combination with an embedded computer and individual pulse width modulation nozzles to scan the crop canopy and apply a proportional amount of spray in real time. The Intelligent Sprayer has been shown to decrease chemical usage by up to 80%, off target drift by 70%-100%, and ground loss by 82%-90%, all with equivalent disease and pest control compared to standard air blast sprayers. These improvements in pesticide application efficiency not only save the farmer money on chemical costs, but have other tangential benefits such as reducing diesel and labor costs due to less sprayer fill ups required, reducing water consumption for sprayer fill ups, and reducing chemical impact on the environment.
The Intelligent Sprayer team at Oregon State University has two different facilities conducting applied research, the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology in Corvallis, OR, and the North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Aurora, OR. Jay Pscheidt is the PI leading the research within the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology where research has focused on evaluating the Intelligent Sprayer in wine grapes, hazelnuts, and boxwoods. At NWREC, Lloyd Nackley (Horticulture) leads the project, along with Brian Hill (Horticulture) and Melissa Scherr (Horticulture). Research at NWREC has focused on evaluating spray coverage in various nursery crops such as maples and cherry rootstock, and research into control methods for tip feeding insects (mainly thrips) of nursery tree crops.