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Getting it right: Pesticide mixing tips when spraying with the Intelligent Sprayer


The Intelligent Sprayer, which uses a laser-guided precision spray control system called Smart-Apply, is a breakthrough spray technology for fruit, nut, and nursery trees and perennial vine crops.

The technology – an add-on to modify a standard airblast sprayer - comes in a kit with a LiDar (Light Detection and Ranging) scanning system that creates a 3D map of the orchard canopy (see our previous post on this topic here). A computer uses the 3D scanning information to calculate how much spray to apply and where to apply it. The computer controls a set of solenoid valves that open and close individual nozzles so that the spray matches the shape, size, and location of the crop canopy.

Diagram of the Intelligent Sprayer kit retrofitted to an airblast sprayer. Highlighted in yellow are the components of the kit. Image credit: Eric Hoile, modified by Jose Gonzalez.

Our studies in Ohio and Iowa apple orchards in 2020 and 2021 showed a reduction in spray volume of 40 to 80% when using the Intelligent Sprayer, compared to a standard airblast sprayer applying 100 gallons per acre.  Despite this major reduction in spray volume, using the Intelligent Sprayer achieved marketable yield and pest and disease control equivalent to using the standard airblast sprayer.

This reduction in spray volume is great news since it’s no secret that pesticide use presents hazards for humans and the environment. Reducing the amount of pesticide also cuts costs. Depending on the crop, using the Intelligent Sprayer can save growers $50 to $980 per acre annually. IMPORTANT: when using an Intelligent Sprayer, the amount of pesticide that actually hits the foliage is equivalent to that of a standard airblast. The savings with an Intelligent Sprayer comes about because much more of the spray that comes out the nozzles actually hits the target – the trees – and less gets wasted in off-target drift.

spray volumes comparison
Spray volume records from two commercial apple orchards in Ohio in 2020 and 2021, comparing Intelligent vs. standard air blast sprayers. Credits: Lianna Wodzicki, Ohio State University.

Below are some frequently asked questions about the new sprayer technology:

Question 1: What is the best way to calculate the amount of water to use per acre with the Intelligent Sprayer to achieve proper coverage?

Growers traditionally apply a fixed amount of spray volume per acre. For example, many Midwest growers use 100 gallons per acre as a standard for summer sprays. However, with the Intelligent Sprayer, the software automatically calculates how much to spray “on the fly,” according to canopy size and thickness. In other words, the technology decides how much volume to apply per acre.  

Question 2: If I spray less volume per acre, will I use the same amount of pesticide per acre with an Intelligent Sprayer as with a standard airblast sprayer?

The short answer is: no. However, concentrations of pesticides for the Intelligent Sprayer are the same as for a standard airblast sprayer. How can that be, considering that the Intelligent Sprayer sprays only about half as much per acre as an airblast? The Intelligent Sprayer wastes less spray – a lot less – since it’s much more accurate. For example, it will not spray gaps between trees. Assuming a 50% boost in spray accuracy in an apple orchard with the Intelligent Sprayer, the same volume and concentration of pesticide you’d mix for an airblast sprayer will cover twice the acres. A bonus is that you’ll need to refill the spray tank only half as often – saving labor, time, and fuel.

Standard airblast sprayer and its spray plume at an application rate of 100 gallons per acre in an Iowa orchard. Photo: Brandon Kleinke.

Intelligent Sprayer technology is still quite new. But it’s beginning to prove itself in commercial apple orchards around the country. Looking ahead, this type of technology may ultimately become standard for pesticide application in many orchards.

For further reference on pesticide-spray rates see EPA’s FIFRA’s section 2(ee) (link here).


Buzzwords explained

  • LiDar: Light Detection and Ranging. It is a type of remote sensing method that uses laser pulses (light beams) to measure distance and location of nearby objects.
  • Intelligent Sprayer: An airblast sprayer that has been retrofitted with the Smart-Apply software and kit.
  • SmartApply: Intelligent spray control system developed by USDA-ARS ATRU at Ohio State University and commercialized by Smart Guided Systems LLC (Indianapolis, IN).
  • Solenoid valve: Electromechanical device that uses an electric current to regulate the opening and closing of the spray flow.