Advanced variable-rate spray technology, which applies pesticides based on real-time scanning laser rangefinder measurements of plant presence, size, and density, was developed and retrofitted to existing sprayers. Experiments were conducted to characterize the application of four programmed spray rates (0.03, 0.05, 0.07, or 0.09 L·m−3 of crop geometric volume) when applied to Malus domestica Borkh. ‘Golden Delicious’ apple trees using this crop sensing technology. Water-sensitive cards (WSCs) were used as samplers to quantify spray coverage, deposits, and deposit density in the target and nontarget areas, and an overspray index based on a threshold of greater than 30% coverage was calculated. The application rate ranged from 262 L·ha−1 at the programmed spray rate of 0.03 L·m−3 to 638 L·ha−1 at the rate of 0.09 L·m−3. For a given WSC position, spray coverage and deposits increased as the spray rate increased. WSC positions 1 and 2 were oversprayed at all rates. The effect of spray rate on deposit density varied with WSC positions, with high densities achieved by low spray rates for WSCs closest to the sprayer but by high spray rates for WSCs positioned either deeper within or under the canopy. When coalescing deposits were accounted for, deposit densities met or exceeded the recommended pesticide application thresholds (insecticides 20–30 droplets/cm2; fungicides 50–70 droplets/cm2) at all WSC positions for each spray rate tested. The lowest spray rate reduced off-target loss to the orchard floor by 81% compared with the highest rate, dramatically reducing potential exposure to nontarget organisms, such as foraging pollinators, to come into contact with pesticide residues. Applying the lowest rate of 0.03 L·m−3 met deposit density efficacy levels while reducing spray volume by 83% compared with the orchard standard application of 1540 L·ha−1 and by 87% compared with the 1950 L·ha−1 application rate recommended when using the tree row volume method. Thus, there is potential for growers to refine pesticide application rates to further achieve significant pesticide cost savings. Producers of other woody crops, such as nursery, citrus, and grapes, who use air-assisted sprayers, may be able to achieve similar savings by refining pesticide applications through the use of laser rangefinder-based spray application technology.
Lauren Fessler, Amy Fulcher, Dave Lockwood, Wesley Wright, and Heping Zhu
Lloyd L. Nackley, Brent Warneke, Lauren Fessler, Jay W. Pscheidt, David Lockwood, Wesley C. Wright, Xiaocun Sun, and Amy Fulcher
To optimize pesticide applications to the canopies of deciduous perennial crops, spray volume should be adjusted throughout the year to match the changes in canopy volume and density. Machine-vision, computer-controlled, variable-rate sprayers are now commercially available and claim to provide adequate coverage with decreased spray volumes compared with constant-rate sprayers. However, there is little research comparing variable- and constant-rate spray applications as crop characteristics change throughout a growing season. This study evaluated spray volume, spray quality (e.g., coverage and deposit density), and off-target spray losses of variable- and constant-rate sprayers across multiple phenophases in an apple (Malus domestica) orchard and a grape (Vitis vinifera) vineyard. The variable-rate sprayer mode applied 67% to 74% less volume in the orchard and 61% to 80% less volume in the vineyard. Spray coverage (percent), measured by water-sensitive cards (WSC), was consistently greater in the constant-rate mode compared with the variable-rate mode, but in many cases, excessive coverage (i.e., over-spray) was recorded. The variable-rate sprayer reduced off-target losses, measured by WSC coverage, up to 40% in the orchard and up to 33% in the vineyard. Spray application deposit densities (droplets per square centimeter) on target canopies were typically greater in variable-rate mode. However, the deposit densities were confounded in over-spray conditions because droplets coalesced on the WSC resulting in artificially low values (i.e., few, very large droplets). Spray efficiencies were most improved early in the growing season, when canopy density was lowest, demonstrating the importance of tailoring spray volume to plant canopy characteristics.