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Trinchero Trials New Smart Sprayer Control System

by Ted Rieger
May 27, 2021
Smart Guided sprayer system LiDAR scanning unit mounted on an air-blast sprayer for vineyard trials by
Trinchero Family Estates in Lodi. Photo: Ted Rieger
A Smart Guided sprayer system with LiDAR scanning unit on the front of a John Deere 4X4 utility vehicle serves
as a system demo unit for the new technology. Photo: Ted Rieger

Trinchero Family Estates (TFE) is performing trials this year in Lodi area vineyards with a new smart guided sprayer control  technology designed to increase spray application efficiency,  reduce chemical use, and save growers spraying costs. This technology was developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) scientists and engineers over a decade of research and field testing funded through the Specialty Crops Research Initiative. Systems are now being used in commercial agricultural applications nationwide. TFE is one of the first California vineyards to use the system and hosted the first grower field demonstration in a California vineyard May 20th in conjunction with the Lodi Winegrape Commission.

The technology was developed by a team of USDA-ARS researchers led by agricultural engineer Dr. Heping Zhu at the USDA Application Technology Research Unit (ATRU) in Wooster, Ohio. Field studies conducted in orchards, nurseries and vineyards by the ATRU, Ohio State University, Oregon State University and the University of Tennessee show the system can provide a reduction in pesticide use ranging from  47 to 73 percent with equal or better pest and disease control. The system can also provide significant reductions in airborne spray drift, and reductions in spray loss on the ground.

The system uses a LiDAR (light detection and ranging) high-speed scanning unit mounted on the front of the sprayer unit or tractor that scans the canopy ahead of the spray nozzles to create a 3-dimensional rendering of the canopy and its size. This information is then processed to determine what spray nozzles are activated and how they pulse to apply spray at variable rates to match the canopy size and architecture.  The system is available as a kit to add-on and adapt to almost any air-blast sprayer. The kit uses Tee-Jet brand solenoid valves and spray nozzles. A tablet computer with software is mounted in the tractor operator's dashboard area to control the spray system and log data on spray applications and locations.

Smart Guided Systems, LLC, (www.smartguided.com) based in Indianapolis, IN was licensed to commercialize the USDA-ARS technology in 2018 that is now called the "Smart-Apply Intelligent Spray Control System." (See www.smartapply.com for more information.) The company recently partnered with John Deere for sales and distribution.  Modesto-based John Deere dealer Belkorp Ag, LLC (www.belkorpag.com) is providing regional sales and support for the systems in Northern and Central California. Belkorp Ag sales VP Peter Young said the Smart-Apply can be adapted to most types of sprayers and tractors. Young said, "We're looking for more growers in the region who want to conduct trials with the system in commercial vineyards."

Trinchero Lodi Trials

The TFE trials are being conducted at Alta Mesa Ranch in the northern Lodi American Viticultural Area (AVA) planted in 2009 with 600 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on a high-wire quad trellis system with a California sprawl. TFE GIS database and technology administrator Douglas Wood is working to implement and monitor the system during the trial period. Although the system has been in trials throughout the U.S. and is being successfully used in tree fruit and nut orchards for a number of crops, it has not been as extensively tested in vineyards. Based on the trial results, TFE personnel will decide at the end of the 2021 season whether to buy one or more systems for regular use. As Wood explained, "We want to save money and chemicals with efficient applications, but we want to be sure we are getting adequate coverage for pest and disease control."

TFE viticulturist Andy Mendez provided information to date on early season spray trials with the system using fungicides for powdery mildew control. TFE is using the technology on an Air-O-Fan air-blast sprayer in a 12 year-old vineyard with fairly uniform canopy growth.  Mendez said a typical fungicide spray application for this vineyard is targeted at 50 gallons per acre (gpa). Using the Smart-Apply system, the first spray of the season used just 23 gpa for more than a 50 percent savings. The second spray of the season saved about 30 percent compared with the target, and the third spray was nearly the same as the conventional spray target. Being concerned about coverage,  TFE did comparison trials for spray deposition using water sensitive paper in the vines with both the Smart-Apply system and conventional spray applications.  Mendez summarized: "Compared with conventional sprayer applications, the coverage is pretty similar, and it looks like we will save more chemical and costs earlier in the season. We had a huge savings in fungicide with the first spray, and good savings with the second spray, but as the canopy grows the amount applied becomes more similar to conventional applications beginning with the third application."

When the system is used in vineyards with missing vines or irregular canopy growth, more savings is expected as the spray system can quickly adjust to canopy differences for variable rate applications. TFE will also test the system in an older vineyard that has less uniform vine growth.

The system software and onboard tablet interfaces with a Smart Guided Systems company web portal that enables users to delineate vineyard blocks and to store data and maintain records on spray application rates and how much product is applied. This data can be used for completing Pesticide Use Reports with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Wood said it took a little time to learn to use the system, especially for those new to precision agriculture technology and variable rate application systems. He also noted the spray system and nozzles need to be calibrated, as with all sprayer units. "The company has been very receptive to feedback from our team," Wood said. 

Belkorp Ag also brought a demo unit to the field day--a Smart-Apply system mounted onto a John Deere Gator 4X4 utility vehicle, complete with a tank and spray nozzles to show the system components and its functionality.


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