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A three-year trial of a stationary pesticide application system that uses irrigation lines to deliver pesticides shows promising results. Thus far, insect and disease incidence has been similar in trees treated with the stationary system and trees sprayed with a conventional ­airblast sprayer.

The stationary system, set up in an acre block of Gala apple trees trained to a super spindle system at Fowler Farms in Wolcott, New York, uses ¾-inch irrigation lines and micro irrigation nozzles positioned over the top and middle of the trees to deliver the pesticides. The fixed-spray system was patterned after research conducted at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva in 1998 and 1999 that used three spray lines at different heights.

According to Drs. Andrew Landers and Art Agnello of New York’s Cornell University, if successful, the system would reduce tens of thousands of miles of tractor driving for growers who must spray 14 to 16 times in high-density orchard systems with narrow rows. Landers shared results of the Fowler Farms trial with growers attending the Great Lakes Expo in Michigan.

In the Fowler trial, two 3/4-inch plastic pipe tubes or laterals were positioned in the row, through the canopy, following the top support wire at eight feet and the middle wire at six feet. Small emitters were installed at six-foot intervals along the laterals. The grower’s regular schedule of insecticides and fungicides was followed, with products applied during the growing season under the stationary system to the research block, with the same products applied by airblast sprayer to the rest of the orchard.

Landers thinks there is a future for some form of fixed application system. While the system wouldn’t be practical for all training systems, it could offer an alternative for high-density orchards. He envisions a fully automatic system that could apply pesticides at midnight when people aren’t around.

"The system works biologically, but it has lots of challenges," Landers said, adding that challenges include flushing pesticides from the system; refining ­engineering aspects; and evaluating spray distribution and off-target deposition.

"John Fowler of Fowler Farms calls it the ‘stealth system,’" Landers said. "You can’t see it nor can you hear it working. That’s half the problem with an airblast sprayer. It wakes the neighbor up in the middle of the night."