More than 100 people watched driverless tractors and smart sprayers at the 2023 Smart Orchard field day, which this year concentrated on crop load management with precision irrigation, nutrient application and spraying.
The Smart Orchard, north of Grandview, Washington, is a tree fruit block where researchers and technology startups put their equipment and devices to the test in a commercial setting. It’s owned by Washington Fruit and Produce Co. of Yakima and directed by Steve Mantle of innov8.ag, a farming data company.
One of the highlights of the field day was a smart sprayer married to a bloom map.
“Just think about the possibilities here,” said Tory Schmidt of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.
A smart sprayer uses computer imagery to turn valves on and off, and control their rates, based on whether it detects canopy vegetation and how dense the vegetation is. That way, the spray only hits plants, not air.
Schmidt and other researchers are taking that a step further, combining it with pregenerated bloom maps created by scanning tools, making the smart sprayer even smarter.
Schmidt, Gwen Hoheisel and Lav Khot of Washington State University, and Steve Mantle of innov8.ag, demonstrated proof-of-concept in May by feeding bloom imagery generated from a Green Atlas Cartographer scan into the John Deere operation management software before applying a chemical bloom thinner. The technology worked, though the researchers have no reportable data yet, Hoheisel said.
The field day also featured a demonstration by Monarch Tractor, makers of a driverless, electric tractor, and a walk-through of sap flow meters and other sensors by Dynamax. A drone company displayed and flew a few of its tools, too.
—by Ross Courtney