Dr. Heping Zhu, USDA ARS Wooster, designed the Intelligent Spray Control System to help bring precision agriculture to environmental horticulture. A laser on the sprayer detects the plant canopy; that information triggers spray nozzles to activate only where plant material is present. The result is that much less spray is required. 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 in nursery production. 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. Dr. Zhu is currently working to adapt this technology to greenhouse operations.
“Concerns about application efficiency motivated our research. Our studies have shown that only 30% of spray volume in conventional nursery applications is deposited on target trees, and 34% of total spray volume is lost on the ground. The Intelligent Sprayer gives growers a targeted application with improved spray coverage,” added Dr. Zhu.
It has been a long journey to this point. The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) provided some of the initial funding to get the project started, which was then used to garner additional funds through the USDA ARS Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative and USDA NIFA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative programs, both supported by HRI.
Steve Booher, CEO Smart Guided Systems commented, “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 sprayer.”
Smart Guided Systems, Inc., is now accepting pre-orders with expected delivery in spring 2019. An add-on kit option that enables growers to retrofit existing spray equipment is available.
Providing seed money for innovative solutions like this one and wisely investing these initial funds to bring hundreds of thousands of dollars from other sources toward solving real world problems is another example of how HRI helps horticulture perform better, grow faster, and prepare for the future.