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Advancement of Pesticide Spray Applications in Specialty Crop Production with Intelligent-Decision Technologies

In order to meet consumer demand for high quality andabundant products, growers of specialty crops will continue to control pests and disease through the application of pesticides to a majority of their acreage in specialty crop production. However, current pesticide spray technologies frequently result in over-application and excessive off-target losses and spray drift. Large variations in canopy sizes and densities, plant spacing, and the limitation of conventional sprayers to only deliver pesticide at a constant rate all contribute to the complexity of the problem.

Such imprecise application of pesticides is costly to producers and adds an unnecessary risk to workers, wildlife, beneficial insects, and sensitive ecosystems. Growers are in need of economical and innovative spray application technologies that will assure the continued quality and availability of specialty crops without sacrificing food, worker, and environmental safety.

This research envisions that intelligent spray technologies, integrated with coordinated management strategies, can substantially improve pesticide application efficiency for effective and affordable control of insects and diseases.  The objective of this research is to develop a universal intelligent spray-decision control system that can be easily retrofitted onto conventional or new sprayers for pesticide spray applications in field and greenhouse specialty crop productions. The retrofit will enable sprayers to effortlessly match system operation parameters in real time to crop characteristics, insect and disease pressures and microclimatic conditions.

Growers will be able to provide optimal crop protection using their existing sprayers rather than relying exclusively on the purchase of new sprayers. The outcomes of this research will provide a critical new technology to increase application efficiency and reduce the uncertainty associated with current pesticide delivery systems used in specialty crop production.

The adoption of new spray technologies can be a complicated process. Numerous trade-offs exist among competing economic and environmental interests of growers, sprayer manufacturers, chemical companies, and regulating agencies. Therefore, this research will be of wide interest and appeal to growers of specialty crops including nurseries, apples, peaches, grapes, pears, small fruits, tree nuts, citrus and greenhouse crops. In addition, farm managers, extension educators, state pesticide program coordinators, sprayer manufacturers, chemical companies, legislators, environmental protection agency regulators, natural resource conservationists, the general public, students and researchers will also share a vested interest in the processes and outcomes of this research.

This project is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (Washington, D.C.). Project leaders include research scientists and faculty from USDA-ARS, The Ohio State University, University of Tennessee, Oregon State University, Clemson University and Texas A&M University. In addition, a variety of industry representatives and professionals generously contribute their feedback and support.