About Us

New For 2016 USDA SCRI Funded Grant:

This is a USDA-SCRI funded Coordinated Ag Project with a research and extension team from Michigan, Washington, and New York.  Our goal is to continue to develop and evaluate new designs and engineering challenges that were observed in the original a solid-set canopy delivery (SSCD) project system for apples and cherries.  From the results of the original project, the crops are being expanded to other specialty crops.


Project Title: Solid Set Canopy Delivery Systems: an efficient, sustainable and safer spray technology for tree fruit.

Economic/social/environmental significance of problem: American fruit growers are faced with unprecedented challenges due to: rapidly evolving horticultural practices, accelerating influxes of invasive pests, increased public and government scrutiny of agriculture, an increasingly competitive global marketplace and a shrinking labor supply. The delivery and fate of agricultural inputs, particularly pesticides, are central to many of these pressing issues, yet the basic technology used to make applications in these systems (airblast sprayers) have remained relatively unchanged for the past 50 years. Our SREP addresses the SCRI program focus area: efforts to improve production efficiency, handling, and processing, productivity and profitability over the long term. It addresses the stakeholder focus area priority of: development of new technology that assist specialty crop producers in managing resources to optimize yields and maximize profitability. The multi-region project will have a national scope and complete development, evaluation and delivery of Solid Set Canopy Delivery Systems (SSCDS) for high-density tree fruit production while also exploring the potential of extending this technology to additional perennial fruit crops. Prototype SSCDS produced by our team have validated SSCDS proof-of-concept and will leverage on-going advances in technology and mechanization of high-density tree fruit production.

Apple and stone fruit orchards have been transforming from low density, freestanding tree systems to high-density, trellised tree systems that resemble existing small fruit systems (e.g. grapes, raspberries, blueberries). This has been accomplished through the careful engineering of tree canopy architectures from individual tall spheres into continuous narrow “fruiting walls.”  Adoption of these systems has greatly increased production efficiency, however, the delivery of agricultural chemicals —pesticides, foliar nutrients, and plant growth regulators— continues to rely on tractor-pulled airblast sprayers designed for large, broad canopies. Meanwhile, growers have been faced with an unprecedented range of challenges including: consumer demand for reduced pesticide inputs, increasing urban/rural overlaps, Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for international markets, loss of traditional pesticides to national regulations, rapid development of pest resistance, an influx of invasive insect pests, an increasingly volatile labor market and a less predictable climate. Grower’s response to these issues has included the adoption of expensive technologies (e.g. insect netting for spotted wing drosophila $10,000+ an acre, wind machines $4,000+ per acre) and the development of mechanical replacements for human labor (e.g. picking platforms and harvest assist machines). SSCDS provide a single solution for many of the new problems growers are facing while replacing costs associated with tractor driven sprayers.

SSCDS consist of a network of microsprayers positioned in the tree canopy/trellis and connected to a pumping/mixing station (Fig 1). Our pilot project showed that targeted applications via the SSCDS could virtually eliminate applicator exposure problems common to tractor based sprayers, while increasing farmers’ ability to apply sprays during critical weather periods or when orchard ground is impassible. SSCDS make frequent applications at low rates possible for modern agricultural chemicals, including foliar nutrients, bio-pesticides and reduced-risk pesticides, to improve efficacy of “soft impact” IPM programs. Commercialized SSCDS will also require less skilled labor to operate compared to tractor based sprayers due to a 4-10 fold decreased application time and because the systems will not rely on heavy machinery.

Potential economic/environmental/social benefit: The number of U.S. fruit farms has declined over the past quarter century due to challenges in profitability, accelerating production costs, international competition, government regulation of pesticides and a shrinking labor force. Research, development and implementation of new technologies that increase fruit production efficiency and sustainability are priorities of The Technology Roadmap for Tree Fruit Production. Projected benefits of SSCDS include more efficient pest management, improved ability to meet new MRLs and new opportunities for adapting production to a changing climate and invasive pest complexes. Because SSCDS are not tied to tractors, they will provide growers with an enhanced ability to quickly and precisely apply agrichemicals regardless of the condition of the planting floor. More efficient application without the need for tractors translates to reduced fuel and agrichemical consumption, reduced soil compaction and an improved ability to utilize reduced risk pesticides. Furthermore, it is our expectation that commercialized SSCDS will be simpler to operate than tractor based sprayers, reducing the need for skilled farm labor while simultaneously reducing potential worker exposure to agrichemicals. All of these factors will help U.S. tree fruit producers remain competitive in an increasingly globalized market. The adoption of SSCDS is expected to impact consumers and the environment by increasing the availability of high quality, nutritious fruit, while reducing the carbon footprint (reduced fuel consumption) and amount of agrichemicals (improved delivery efficiency) associated with its production.

 Stakeholders engagement: We have worked closely with an existing stakeholder advisory team that was formed for the pilot SSCDS project, meeting in person annually (2011-2013) to discuss research approaches, results and future directions. The Michigan, Washington and New York apple and cherry industries were engaged for the initial development of the SSCDS technology. Previous and current stakeholder engagement consists of surveys and focus groups directed at growers in all three states. Regular direct contact has been maintained with tree fruit commodity leadership and the support industries as well. Over the past four years, multiple field days and stakeholder meetings were held in all three states to highlight SSCDS technology. Feedback has occurred at commodity group funding meetings, stakeholder meetings, field days and directly at our on-farm project performance locations. In addition, the micro-irrigation industry has been profoundly involved with project activities, both as active participants in research and development of the overall SSCDS concept (John Nye of Trickl-eez Irrigation) as well as in the development of new microsprayer components designed specifically for SSCDS use (Jain Irrigation).

Farmer and policy maker interest in the development of SSCDS has grown rapidly over the last three years. The prototype emplacement at the Clarksville Research Center was demonstrated for a grower audience of 200 in 2015 as well as for the 2014 and 2015 EPA decision maker’s tour. An additional SSCDS emplacement at Agro-Liquid Fertilizers in St. John’s MI was demonstrated to an additional 150 growers in 2015. Tree fruit industry interest in SSCDS has led to the publication of multiple trade journal articles (American Fruit Grower, Good Fruit Grower, Fruit Grower News) and invited articles in the New York State Fruit Quarterly (Summer 2015) and EPA PESPwire Newsletter (Fall 2015).

Since the development of initial SSCDS in the United States there has been increasing international interest in this technology. In France, Dr. Florence Verpont has secured multiple years of funding from the French government to develop a prototype SSCDS and have 3 farms already utilizing these technologies. An Italian horticulturist, Alberto Dorigoni, has initiated SSCDS research at the Institute of Agriculture at San Michele All’ Adige in collaboration with our original project team. A third internationally developed SSCDS system is under initial establishment in Portugal by the Ecofrutas team. European involvement in SSCDS research is expected to increase the pace at which this technology is developed and adopted. Continuing SSCDS development in the USA will ensure that our growers can be early adopters and maintain competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

 Continued stakeholder engagement: We will continue to regularly engage with and report to commodity groups and grower clientele within MI and WA. Specific activities will include a yearly planning and stakeholder meeting that will alternate between the two states, the publication of a yearly newsletter to report project progress and upcoming activities, regular reports at industry-wide meetings (g., the Great Lakes Expo and the WA State Horticultural Association annual meetings) and field days at the University project performance sites. Beginning in year 2, we will establish 2nd generation portable SSCDS with one or more collaborating growers per state. In year 3, we will increase both the number and scope of grower collaborator sites as new SSCDS specific technologies are made available by Jain irrigation. We will periodically survey growers and industry to identify specific needs, application opportunities and adoption barriers for SSCDS. Our stakeholder panel will be integrally involved in the creation, dissemination and interpretation of surveys—allowing them to evaluate project progress toward short and medium term outcomes (presented in section l: logic model). Furthermore, stakeholders will evaluate the project’s progress at the annual stakeholder meeting where the team will present key findings and progress during the preceding year. A facilitator will be appointed from the stakeholder group with time set aside for stakeholders to meet separately from the project team, allowing for further discussion and to formulate specific suggestions for modifying the following year’s activities.

Translation of Usable Project Information: Since education must be locally relevant and applicable, we will take a combined approach of using traditional local extension and online media. The project team developed and maintains a website that will continue to host SSCDS project information (canopydelivery.msu.edu) and link it to other relevant projects and application technology sites. Outreach materials will continue to be developed in the form of videos, presentations, fact sheets and extension publications to link into existing industry and public websites (i.e., Good Fruit Grower, MSU Fruit Crop Advisory Team Alert, Scaffolds Fruit Journal, Fruit Grower News, YouTube, Slideshare). Regular presentations and listening sessions will be scheduled for grower and industry groups at major grower meetings, e.g., the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market (GLFVFM) Expo, the WA State Horticultural Association annual conference and WSU CPAAS Annual Agricultural Technology Day. Participants will be offered Certified Crop Consultant credits and pesticide application recertification credits as added incentive to attend the SSCDS sessions. A yearly project newsletter-style report will continue to be produced to inform stakeholders, policy makers and the public of project progress.

Producers will typically observe a new technology for several years before initiating adoption. This project will help us build upon two years of proof-of-concept data and provide growers with an alternative system of optimized technologies for the delivery of agricultural chemicals to implement on their farm. Inclusion of industry leaders as stakeholders and grower collaborators will ensure that the larger grower community has significant exposure to this technology and opportunities for input and feedback. Yearly field days at each major project performance location will ensure that growers can attend demonstrations of the systems.

Project objectives:

1) Optimize SSCDS technologies in the modern orchard tree architectures for improved spray material application efficacy.

2) Determine and test SSCDS applications for standard and novel fruit production operations.

3) Determine the economic benefits and costs associated with SSCDS and identify non-economic barriers to grower adoption of SSCDS.

4) Develop and deliver extension and outreach activities and materials —including field scale and on-farm demonstrations— to increase producer knowledge and adoption of SSCDS.


Outline of methodology to be used to achieve project objectives:

Objective 1: Optimize SSCDS technologies… The majority of bench engineering activities will occur at the MSU campus with additional field based engineering occurring at the WSU CPAAS. We will use laboratory evaluation of sprayers to develop computer models that predict deposition and coverage that will be validated in small-scale field trials. Spreading angle, penetration distance, spray pattern and density of coverage will be measured optically using a LaVision Spraymaster laser sheet and CCD imaging system and droplet size distribution will be made using a Malvern Spraytec system.¬†Field validation of models will be carried out at MSU and WSU using portable CoralTec D30 spray sizers. We will also evaluate direct injection-based systems versus pre-mixed systems, the use of infrared sensors for fault detection and the maximum SSCDS length based on the minimum pressure needed to deliver adequate coverage of canopy targets (foliage and fruit).

Objective 2: Determine and test SSCDS applications… This objective will be carried out at locations in MI and WA. Our approach will combine the use of SSCDS at research centers and small portable SSCDS emplacements that can be rapidly established in single rows of additional narrow canopy perennial crops (e.g. grapes, raspberries, blueberries). Season long experiments will evaluate reduced risk pesticides as well as PGRs applied through SSCDS on 0.33-1 acre orchard blocks. Additional experiments will evaluate the efficacy of increased application rate and reduced volumes of pesticides, thinning agents and PGRs. Protocols for SSCDS-based evaporative cooling of apple during late winter and early spring conditions will be developed in MI to delay bloom to avoid critical frost dates.

Objective 3: Determine the economic and sociological implications of grower adoption… We will expand existing cost-of-implementation models for apple orchards to include additional benefits (microclimate cooling). Potential barriers to grower adoption of SSCDS will continue to be evaluated through surveys, focus groups and interviews.

Objective 5: Develop and deliver extension… Extension methodology is provided above under h) Translation of Usable Project Information.