Tree Fruit Disease and Pest Control - Targeted Spray Application Technologies

New spray application technologies reduce spray drift and improve precision management in orchards.
Tree Fruit Disease and Pest Control - Targeted Spray Application Technologies - Articles


The application of pesticides to perennial cropping systems, although very necessary for pest control, gives rise to many concerns including inaccurate application, which can lead to high food residues, food safety issues, air and water pollution, non-target effects and poor pest control. There is a need to investigate newer and more efficient sprayer technologies for applying required pesticides.

Progress to Date

A Penn State sprayer technology working group began discussing possible initiatives in 2007. Larry Hull tested the "Cornell donuts" on two air-blast sprayers and demonstrated significant reductions in spray drift while still maintaining equivalent levels of insect control. Summer engineering interns built a patternator (based on specifications developed at Cornell University) to help growers assess ways to adjust spray distribution pattern. A workshop on application technologies for tree fruit and grapes was held at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center. The Penn State Pesticide Education Program sponsored field demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 and workshops in 2013 to 2015 to demonstrate the benefits of tools for calibrating air-blast sprayer and minimizing drift.

On-Going and Future Initiatives

Continued outreach efforts will address improving spray deposition while reducing drift. Educational programming will include demonstrations of low-cost fixes for air-blast sprayers, such as improved nozzle orientation, air induction nozzles, end plates, air deflectors, axial fan size and speed adjustments, PTO and hydraulic drive modifications, "Cornell donuts" and new technologies such as foliage sensors. The State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania Extension Committee awarded funding in 2013 and 2014 to help off-set the cost to growers for on-farm calibration of their air-blast sprayers. With additional funding received in 2015, spray deposition will also be evaluated using a patternator.

As a result of the first year of funding, 70 sprayers were calibrated, and the numbers of calibrations increase each year. After having their sprayers calibrated for the first time, most growers indicated they would be willing to pay more for future calibrations. This is a continuation and expansion of the initial needs assessment pilot project, with the ultimate goal of making the program sustainable once growers see firsthand the value of the calibration unit in improving air-blast sprayer performance. Sprayer calibration workshops are also conducted in English and Spanish. By doing precise calibration, some growers estimate they now mix 10% less material per tank. Based on Penn State Extension Tree Fruit Production budgets, this is a savings of $150 per acre.

Prepared by: Kerry Richards, Héctor M. Núñez Contreras, Bob Pollock, Larry Hull, John Esslinger, Kathy Salisbury, Andy Muza, Tom Ford, Tim Elkner