The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative has awarded a team of Michigan State University researchers $1.47 million to test the effectiveness of a canopy delivery system for fruit trees. MSU’s award was part of the USDA’s rollout of $36.5 million in grants.
Matthew Grieshop, an entomologist and organic pest management expert at MSU, leads the project, which originated through a SCRI grant in 2012. The team includes scientists from MSU and Washington State University, as well as private consultants from the spray technology and irrigation industries.
“We were looking to generate proof-of-concept data with the first grant, and I’m very pleased with the results,” Grieshop said. “This project is much more targeted than the last one. It’s almost entirely focused on engineering to develop prototypes for growers to implement. We proved the system can work, so now we need to figure out how to make it work in an efficient and cost-effective way.”
So far, the canopy system has been tested in apple orchards, but it will move to other tree fruits in the second phase. Using commercially available microsprayers supported by existing trellis wires, the system is spread across the orchard. A mobile pumping station moves from row to row, attaching to a manifold and applying the spray. Each application is a full rate of pesticide, plant growth regulator, nutrients, etc., and takes roughly 15 seconds. Operators never need to enter the spraying area, resulting in less contact with chemicals and a lower likelihood of damage to crops and machines.
Benefits of the new system include decreasing the time it takes to spray compared to current air-blast, tractor-based methods, as well as the ability to apply sprays during critical pest management windows when equipment may not be able to operate in the field due to weather. Positive environmental impacts are less soil compaction and a smaller carbon footprint from machinery, and less wasting of chemicals through a more precise application process.
Jim Flore, MSU horticulture professor, has used the system to apply short bursts of mist to use evaporation to cool trees during the period when they’re getting ready to break dormancy. This has prolonged dormancy enough to avoid damaging frosts, a more frequent event in Michigan in recent years. In spring 2012 many fruit crops, such as apples, tart cherries, peaches and grapes, saw crop losses of 80 to 90 percent.
“We are having warmer winters, so the trees are breaking dormancy earlier,” Grieshop said. “If I can prevent a frost event that may pay for the entire system. It may cost a little more than an air-blast system up front, but it will provide services that the air-blast system doesn’t. Our goal in this engineering stage is to bring that up-front cost down as much as possible. Integrated pest management strategies are moving toward sprays with less residual that need to be applied more frequently, so the solid set system fits in really well with that direction.”
Annemiek Schilder, plant, soil and microbial sciences associate professor, also was awarded a grant for $48,550. She will lead a project to develop a predictive model-based management system for fruit diseases of blueberry.
Picture courtesy: Michigan State University