Collaboration with Michigan State University explores the applications of precision agriculture for cultivating several apple varieties in the US

Netherlands-based Aurea Imaging, Munckhof Fruit Tech Innovators and EFC have announced the formation of a demonstration project in collaboration with Michigan State University to explore the applications of precision agriculture for cultivating several apple varieties in the US, including Kanzi apples.

Dutch US apple collaboration Michigan three-row orchard sprayer

The pilot project will include a demonstration of fully automated, tree-specific blossom thinning and growth regulation, with drone footage, data analysis and automatic orchard sprayers with GPS technology used during the study.

The demonstration will take place at the farms of fruit growers Mike Wittenbach and Ronald Rasch in a 10-acre test area.

Aurea Imaging will create blossom and vigour maps between late April and early May using drone footage to assess the blossom density and the vigour of each individual tree.

The maps will be validated jointly by researchers from the university, Aurea Imaging and the fruit growers, and a threshold for minimum blossom density will be determined in consultation with the growers.

All trees that are scored below the blossom density threshold will be automatically skipped during blossom thinning, while those above this threshold will receive precision treatment.

The trees below this threshold will be treated with a growth regulator to achieve higher and more uniform fruit yields. Treatment with a growth regulator prevents fruit trees from growing too vigorously, and avoids a low rate of fruit growth and maturation and excessively large fruits.

According to the companies, the blossom maps will automatically be converted to digital task maps for Munckhof’s automatic VariMAS sprayer, which sprayer was chosen for the demo project because of its high drift reduction capability and accuracy in combination with its low consumption of spraying agents and fuel.

The Munckhof VariMAS sprayer is equipped with GPS technology that accurately recognises fruit trees based on digital task maps.

Validation parameters include a number of flower clusters, tree height, shoot length, the number of fruits, and the colour and size of the fruits.

”This application of precision agriculture leads to a higher yield, greater uniformity and better quality, and also reduces the use of spraying agents,” the groups stated. ”Previous demonstrations in the Netherlands resulted in yield increases of 12 per cent to 65 per cent. Tree-specific growth regulation leads to a more uniform and healthier orchard, with proven higher yields.”

The demonstration project uses existing and proven techniques, however this is the first time that they have been deployed for growth stimulation in the apple cultivation sector in the US.

Results and status updates from the demo will be published on social media and presented at events for fruit growers as it progresses.

In the Netherlands, trials with the application of precision agriculture have also led to good results in automatic thinning, pear bud weevil treatment, root pruning and targeted fertilisation of individual fruit trees.

During these trials, the harvest optimisation results were good and growers saved significantly on resources and labour.