Equipment
Researchers are combining new digital tools, computer technologies and machine learning to bring cost-effective weed control solutions to the field. Although still in the early stages, this new high-tech solution is being designed as an advanced spot-spraying precision technology that will help farmers reduce input costs and add another management tool to their integrated management systems.  
Published in Weeds
Drip irrigation is no longer the ‘new kid on the block,’ and nearly 10 per cent of U.S. farms rely on it to grow their crops. Each year, new growers dabble with drip and many learn by trial and error. Reaching out with some helpful tips to those growers is Inge Bisconer, technical marketing and sales manager for Toro Micro-Irrigation.
Published in Irrigating
January 24, 2018, Charlottetown, PEI – It will now be elementary for a P.E.I. raw potato preparation operation to inspect the inside of potatoes with new technology called the Sherlock Separator-2400.

RWL Holdings Ltd. in Travellers Rest, PEI, recently received more than $400,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the province for food safety equipment.

The Sherlock Separator is a chemical imaging machine that uses new technology to inspect the inside of the potato without removing the peel. READ MORE
Published in Safety
January 17, 2018, Guelph, Ont – Vast amounts of data are being collected on Canada’s farms through the advent of precision agriculture technology and the Internet of Things (IOT).

Many types of tools, equipment and devices gather data on everything from crop yields to how many steps an animal takes in a day. However, much of that data is underutilized because it’s collected by systems that don’t or can’t communicate with each other.

The need for better decision-making on farms through better data use resulted in Ontario Precision Agri-Food (OPAF), a partnership of agricultural organizations led by Ontario Agri-Food Technologies (OAFT) that’s developing an open agri-food innovation platform to connect and share data.

The goal, according to lead director Dr. Karen Hand of Precision Strategic Solutions, is getting data, wherever it exists (both data repositories in industry or government and data generated by countless sensors) so it can be used to help advance important food production issues like food safety, traceability and plant and animal disease surveillance.

For example, information about the prevalence and control of insect pests like cutworms that damage soybean crops lies with many different people and organizations, including university and government researchers, crop advisors, input suppliers and farmers.

“There is no single spot where all of the information about a particular pest can be accessed in a robust, science-based system and used in decision-making and that’s where OPAF’s platform will help,” Hand said.

Pilot projects are underway with Ontario’s grain, dairy and poultry producers to identify their needs in areas like crop protection, sustainability and food safety and how OPAF can provide data-driven solutions to benefit farmers.

“We sit down with farmers, advisors, associations, government and researchers to find out what data they have, where they exist and if we were able to connect them, what value or benefit that would offer participants – either specific to the commodity they are producing or on larger food-related issues such as food safety or impact on trade,” she explains.

And OPAF’s efforts are gaining global recognition. Earlier this year, Internet of Food and Farm 2020, a large project in the European Union exploring the potential of IOT technologies of European food and farming, recognized OPAF as one of three global projects to collaborate with.

“This is going to be changing the face of data enablement in Canada and contributing globally,” said Tyler Whale of Ontario Agri-Food Technologies (OAFT). “We are creating a platform that is the base of something new, and although we are piloting this in Ontario, it will be available nationwide to those who want to use it.”

OPAF partners include OAFT, University of Guelph, University of Waterloo, Niagara College, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Grain Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Farm Credit Canada, Ontario Agri-Business Association, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, and Golden Horseshoe Farm and Food Alliance.

This project was funded by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists with GF2 delivery in Ontario.
Published in Research
January 11, 2018 - The growing popularity of robotic weeders for vegetable crops has grown partly out of necessity, says Steven Fennimore, an extension specialist at the University of California, Davis.

The need for robotic weeders stems from two issues: a lack of herbicides available for use in specialty crops, and the fact that hand-weeding has become more and more expensive. Without pesticides, growers have had to hire people to hand-weed vast fields.

Hand-weeding is slow and increasingly expensive: it can cost between $150 and $300 per acre. That motivates some growers to look to robotic weeders.

“I’ve been working with robotic weeders for about 10 years now, and the technology is really just starting to come into commercial use,” Fennimore says. “It’s really an economic incentive to consider them.”

Fennimore works with university scientists and companies to engineer and test the weeders. The weeders utilize tiny blades that pop in and out to uproot weeds without damaging crops. He says that although the technology isn’t perfect, it’s getting better and better.

The weeders are programmed to recognize a pattern and can tell the difference between a plant and the soil. However, they currently have trouble telling the difference between a weed and a crop.

That said, Fennimore explains how some companies are training the machines to tell a lettuce plant from a weed. He’s also working with university engineers on a system to tag the crop plant so the weeders will avoid it.

“The problem with the machines right now is that they are version 1.0, and there’s tremendous room for improvement,” he says. “The inability to be able to tell the difference between a weed and a crop requires the grower to be very exact when using them. The rows have to be a little straighter, cleaner, and more consistent because the machines aren’t that sophisticated yet. The robots don’t like surprises.”

The robotic weeders currently on the market cost anywhere between $120,000 and $175,000. For some growers, it is a better long-term option than expensive hand-weeding. Others think it’s a lot of money for a new technology, and are waiting for it to get better and cheaper.

Fennimore believes robotic weeders are the future of weeding in specialty crops. Because of higher labour costs and more incentives to grow organically with fewer pesticides, European growers have been using robotic weeders for some time.

Fennimore is focusing his work on physical control of weeds because it offers the best option. He’s also started working in crops besides lettuce, such as tomatoes and onions. He adds that each crop will require a different system.

“I believe what makes the robotic weeders better than herbicides is that this electronic-based technology is very flexible and can be updated easily,” he says. “We all update our phones and computers constantly, which is a sign of a robust and flexible technology.”

Fennimore recently presented his research at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America in Tampa, FL.

 

Published in Spraying
January 9, 2018, Morell, PEI – The federal government is supporting new automated processes at Green Meadow Farms to help increase productivity, allowing employees to focus their skills in other aspects of the business.

A repayable contribution of $155,141 – provided through ACOA’s Business Development Program – will help Green Meadows purchase and install new automated sorting and bagging equipment at its Morell farm. The technology upgrades will improve efficiency and productivity at the operation.

“At Green Meadow Farms, we are continuously looking for ways to update our operation to compete in the global marketplace,” said Anneke Polstra, one of the founders of Green Meadow Farms Inc. “With this repayable contribution from ACOA, we are able to invest in new packaging technology that will support the work of our staff and help us keep up with growing industry demand.”

Green Meadow Farms Inc. was established in 1993 by Anneke and Reitze Polstra, and is now managed by brothers, Terry and Thys Polstra. The 2,000 acre farm has more than 1,000 acres of potatoes and grain in production with up to 14 full-time and part-time employees.

“Nearly 25 years ago, the Polstra family moved to the Island and began a successful farm operation,” said Minister of Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay. “Hard work and a continued commitment to updating the technology in their processing facility has allowed them to remain competitive and to create employment in rural P.E.I. I applaud their successes and am pleased to show support for this latest investment.”

Published in Federal
December 8, 2017, Mississauga, Ont – Bee Vectoring Technologies recently announced successful trial results in blueberries.

The trial was conducted near Parrsborough, NS, in low bush blueberries with the Wild Blueberry Research Program at Dalhousie University. The trial utilized BVT's newly developed honeybee system, consisting of a honeybee hive outfitted with dispenser technology through which BVT's proprietary plant beneficial microbe, BVT-CR7, can be delivered to crops. The trial was designed to determine the effectiveness of the BVT technology in controlling Botrytis blight (gray mold) and Monilinia blight (mummy berry), two common and devastating diseases affecting blueberry crops across North America, compared to untreated control and current chemicals standards. The trial also examined increases in productivity of the crop measured by marketable yield.

"Our yields went up quite substantially when we used the BVT system, whether alone or in combination with chemical fungicides, but they didn't go up where we used the fungicide alone," said Dr. David Percival, blueberry research program director and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. "I was really surprised by the first results. I went back and double-checked the raw yield data, then the spreadsheet to make sure the statistical program was correct. The results indicate the potential for floral blight disease control and increased berry yields with the use of BVT technology. Future work will allow us to fine tune the use recommendations."

“These are excellent results once again for the company and firmly establishes another major market opportunity,” said Ashish Malik, CEO of BVT. “Notably, this was the first time we tested our honeybee delivery system in a replicated R&D study, and we got great results. Having a proven system that works with honey bees alongside our first system designed to work with commercial bumble bee hives allows us to reach a far wider market and gives us options to deliver solutions for growers based on the specific needs for their crops."

Blueberries are a high-value crop, fetching as much as US $18,000 in revenue per acre in certain regions. There are almost 300,000 acres of blueberries cultivated in the US and Canada with total farm gate value of US $ 1.1 billion. Blueberry production in North America represents 54 per cent of the worldwide cultivation of the crop with key growing regions including the Atlantic provinces and British Columbia in Canada, Washington, Oregon, Georgia, Michigan, California, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Florida in the U.S.
Published in Research
December 5, 2017, Kimberly, ID — A University of Idaho researcher says a water-efficient irrigation method he helped devise was effective in potatoes during 2017 trials and is poised for significant expansion in the coming season.

UI Extension irrigation specialist Howard Neibling and his Washington State University counterpart, Troy Peters, worked in conjunction with Bonneville Power to develop the first pivot using low-elevation sprinkler application in 2013.

LESA sprays water in a flat pattern from low-pressure nozzles dangling about a foot above the ground — low enough to pass beneath the crop canopy and eliminate drift without excessive runoff. READ MORE
Published in Research
November 27, 2017, Guelph, Ont – Collaboration between vegetable growers, a farm organization, and a grower co-operative is leading to improved plant health and more efficient vegetable production in the Holland Marsh.

The Bradford Co-op, the Fresh Vegetable Growers of Ontario and individual vegetable growers in the Holland Marsh are collaborating on a project with the University of Guelph to test innovative technologies that will make their Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs for key crops like onions and carrots more efficient and cost effective.

“We work together with industry partners and growers to fund and collaborate on our IPM programs in the Marsh,” explains Matt Sheppard, Bradford Co-op general manager. “There is tremendous value in early detection and this project is helping us identify issues in real time so we can provide the correct advice and solutions to growers.”

Weekly photos are taken of the vegetable fields in the marsh using an octocopter drone. Lead researcher Mary Ruth McDonald and her team at the University of Guelph’s Muck Crops Research Station run the IPM program and use the images for early detection of diseases and insects so growers can take appropriate measures to protect their crop and prevent or minimize damage.

Downy mildew, which causes lower yields and decreased storability, is the most damaging disease for onions in the area; Stemphylium leaf blight is also a significant concern.

“The technology we are able to access through this project makes our crop scouting program more effective and lets growers be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to crop protection,” explains Sheppard. “It’s very quick for a grower to have a problem area identified early and then decide how to treat it correctly to keep the crop healthy.”

Using information generated from the aerial images to prevent or minimize problems means less and more targeted use of crop protection materials, resulting in immediate savings of $5,000 to $50,000 per grower depending on the crop and the size of the farm.

More importantly, though, use of the technology ultimately ensures growers can keep supplying the market with quality produce and consumers have access to locally grown vegetables.

The marsh’s unique soils mean growers in the area have to work together to find solutions for their crop challenges, says Sheppard, adding that funding from Growing Forward 2 has been instrumental in bringing the collaboration together.

“Muck soil like ours doesn’t exist in other areas so we have to be self-sufficient and proactive to find solutions,” he says. “The technology is expensive so it’s something we wouldn’t be able to initiate on our own, but the investment with GF2 has allowed us to access the funds to make it happen.”
Published in Research
According to my children – and myself at times – I’m ancient. I grew up in those heady days before TV remotes and hand-held video games, back when where you stood in a room played a role in whether the TV station would come in clear. I remember when personal computers became mainstream. My first PC was gigantic, composed of three heavy, bulky components that could each serve as a boat anchor. The PC was going to revolutionize work. Hello three-day workweek.
Published in Harvesting
October 27, 2017, Coldbrook, NS – Federal government representatives were at Scotian Gold’s Coldbrook facility recently to announce an investment of up to $1.75 million in support of the cooperative’s new state-of- the-art apple packing facility.

The investment enabled Scotian Gold to expand its facility and to purchase and install two new-to-Atlantic high efficiency production lines.

With the facility expansion and new technology, Scotian Gold expects to grow its sales and demand of premium, Nova Scotia-grown apples, both in Canada and in the Unites States.

"The new facility is an example of Scotian Gold's willingness to invest in the future of our growers, our employees and the apple industry,” said David Parrish, president and CEO of Scotian Gold Cooperative Ltd. “Over the next number of years, the apple volume will increase for varieties such as Honeycrisp, Ambrosia and SweeTango. This facility will have the capability to supply Scotian Gold's expanding markets in a timely and efficient manner."

Scotian Gold Cooperative is the largest apple packing and storage operation in Eastern Canada.
Published in Fruit
October 25, 2017, Kingsville, Ont – Mucci Farms recently announced the completion of the second phase of its 36 acre strawberry expansion.

The company also announced that Phase Three construction is underway with production to begin in Fall 2018. The full project will be equivalent to more than 1.5 million square feet of high-tech glass exclusively growing strawberries, the largest in North America.

"Our strawberry program is being met with a great deal of enthusiasm from current and potential retail partners because of our emphasis on premium flavour and consistent supply," explained Danny Mucci, vice president of Mucci Farms.

Since partnering with Dutch growers Ton Bastiaansen and Joost van Oers in January 2016, Mucci Farms has seen accelerated growth and a greater demand for greenhouse-grown strawberries.

"Overwhelming, is the best way I can describe how our Smuccies are being received,” said Joe Spano, vice president of sales and marketing. “Super sweet, clean, on the shelf within 24 hours of harvest and grown in an environment that is unaffected by inclement weather. Even better, they are grown locally in Ontario so that consumers can enjoy summer fresh strawberries during the holiday season."

Phase Three of the expansion will include state-of-the-art lit culture technology, allowing Mucci Farms to offer strawberries during the winter months. A technology they are well experienced with, Mucci Farms also owns more than 200 acres of greenhouses, 30 of which are currently growing lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers year-round.

"As with all of our new greenhouses, the new 24 acres of strawberries will also include the use of diffused glass which reduces stress on the plants by providing even sunlight," said Bert Mucci, CEO at Mucci Farms. "We will continue to use high-pressure fogging systems to cool down the greenhouse in the hotter months and also install the swing gutter system which allow for the amount of maximum plants per square meter."
Published in Fruit
October 3, 2017, Kingston, Ont – Employee labour tracking, cloud based data, and the need for a future of digital food safety documentation were each important aspects when the Ontario Berry Growers Association (OBGA) decided to provide its growers with a high level traceability software, Croptracker.

For the OBGA, the software selection of is the result of the Croptracker team working diligently with Ontario berry growers for the past year to learn and develop berry crop processes and strategies. The most important and beneficial feature berry growers needed was the capability of developing, calculating, and tracking piecework harvest. This allows for growers to track individual employee labour and payout calculations while managing and adjusting piecework rates. With successful implementation, the association saw the opportunity to opt into Croptracker, not only for their food safety and audits, but also for their labour tracking.

Croptracker is a very intuitive program that provides growers with food safety traceability and so much more,” said Kevin Schooley, executive director of the OBGA. “I encourage all berry growers to take advantage of the opportunity to work with this software. It is an Ontario product that understands the needs of growers.”

Croptracker is currently free to all OBGA members.
Published in Companies
September 25, 2017, Guelph, Ont – Ontario tender fruit farmers need the right mix of rain, sunshine and growing temperatures to produce juicy, fresh peaches, pears, cherries, apricots and nectarines. But when extreme weather hits during critical crop development, it can wreak havoc on an entire crop. And unpredictable weather events are becoming more and more common.

The Ontario Tender Fruit Growers saw the need for a better way to work with whatever the weather sends their way.

“We had no good data available to know the damage that would result to our fruit crops from extreme temperatures,” says Phil Tregunno, chair of Ontario Tender Fruit.

With Growing Forward 2 funding through the Agricultural Adaptation Council, the producer group was able to work with researchers to assess the bud hardiness of various tender fruit crops. Bud hardiness gives an indication of the temperature the dormant buds can withstand before there will be damage to the resulting crop.

“If we want to be able to provide Ontario and Canadian consumers with high quality, local fruit, we need to have better tools to manage extreme weather,” says Tregunno.

Data gathered on the bud hardiness of tender fruit crops now feeds a new real-time, automated weather alert system to help Ontario tender fruit growers make decisions about how to manage extreme weather events.

Developed in partnership with Brock University, KCMS Inc., Weather INnovations Inc. and Ontario Tender Fruit, the new system runs on regional temperatures that are updated every 15 minutes, and bud survival data.

With 90 per cent of tender fruit production in the Niagara region, the bulk of the weather information comes from that area of the province.

The new weather tool is available to growers at TenderFruitAlert.ca and is searchable by location, commodity and cultivar. The site provides information to help growers monitor bud cold hardiness through the fruits’ dormant period and manage winter injury.

“Being prepared is half the battle when you farm with the weather,” says Tregunno. “This new tool gives us accurate, local weather, and matches that with the susceptibility of the specific crops and cultivars to predict that temperature when a grower will start to see crop losses. With that information, growers can make management decisions about how to deal with extreme weather – including the use of wind machines to keep temperatures above the critical point for crop injury.”

Ontario is home to more than 250 tender fruit growers, generating more than $55 million in annual sales from fresh market and processing. Those growers all remember the devastating cold weather in the spring of 2012 that saw tender fruit losses of 31 per cent to 89 per cent. 

The new web-based cold hardiness database will help growers respond and prepare for potentially damaging weather events, and that will help protect the valuable fresh, local markets, Ontario’s Niagara region is so well known for.
Published in Fruit
September 20, 2017, Washington – Storing Honeycrisp long-term while achieving good packouts and maintaining fruit of acceptable eating quality in the second part of the storage season has been a continuous challenge for our industry.

Up until last year, most packers had become comfortable knowing what types of performance to expect out of each lot. With Honeycrisp, you basically had to control your decay, manage chilling injuries (mainly soft scald), and bitter pit. We did know that this apple was sensitive to carbon dioxide injury but, aside from the occasional cavities, most packers did not report having significant problems. READ MORE

 


 
Published in Fruit
While most young men in the early 1900s were likely dreaming about driving a Model-T Ford, Norman M. Bartlett was thinking in an inventive way.

Living in Beamsville, Ontario – the heart of the Niagara Peninsula – had a strong influence on the direction of his thinking. The Niagara Peninsula has possibly the most unique combination of fertile soil types, climatic conditions and access to local markets in Canada.

It is also interesting to note that even at the turn of the century, the consumer was recognizing quality and placing demands on the growers to improve produce quality. This interest in quality plus quite possibly the fact that the major variety of pears grown in this area was (and still is) the Bartlett pear, (an interesting coincidence), were most probably the factors that strongly influenced Norman M. Bartlett’s life in 1912. During that year, he began manufacturing lime sulphur in a 40-inch cast iron kettle and thereby established Bartlett Spray Works. His product was excellent by 1912 standards, and Bartlett gained notoriety with this product as it helped to produce the quality crops the consumer desired. It was not long before other products were added to his list of crop protection materials and demand was spreading into the other fruit and vegetable growing areas of Ontario. Quality and service were synonymous from the very beginning.

Bartlett was a fruit grower as well during this time. The Bartlett farm on Bartlett Side Road in Beamsville consisted of a mixture of apples, grapes and pears – mostly Bartlett pears, of course. A grass-rooted involvement and extreme interest in trying to solve problems and find answers that were sound and profitable to not only Bartlett Spray Works, but to the growers he was serving then evolved. This would become the cornerstone of the foundation that N.M. Bartlett Inc. would still be building on some three generations and more than 80 years later.

Over the next quarter-century, Bartlett Spray Works continued to grow in both product range and geographical coverage. Products such as Paris Green, Bluestone (Copper Sulphate), Microfine Wettable Sulphur, Calcium Arsenate, Nicotine Sulphate, and Arsenate of Lead, to name but a few, were found under the Bartlett label. By this time, Bartlett had designed and built his own hammer mill and cyclone separator to be able to produce the finest ground sulphur in North America.

Bartlett Microfine Sulphur was known to growers as the best available. Soon word spread to other industries and Bartlett Microfine Sulphur was used extensively in the manufacture of rubber and explosives in Eastern Canada by companies such as Firestone, Uniroyal, CIL, and Dupont. When the use of dusts became the newest application method during the 1950s, Bartlett Spray Works met the challenge to produce quality products. The grind mill became instrumental in producing high quality superfine dusts.

The involvement of other Bartlett family members was also critical to the success of the company, which was incorporated in 1951 and renamed N.M. Bartlett Manufacturing Company. The three Bartlett children – Evelynne, Jim and George – all were involved in the family business. The children first helped out on the farm and, when old enough, became active in the spray works. George and his future brother-in-law, Hec Little, directed a staff of six involved in production, Evelynne managed the office and billing, and Jim looked after deliveries of the product, which included deliveries to the province of Quebec by the 1940s.

From the beginning, Norman had an inventive mind and enjoyed challenges. Therefore, it was not surprising that he designed and built fruit grading and sorting equipment as early as 1930. The Bartlett equipment set a world standard for excellence of handling fruit and vegetables. In fact, during the 1950s and 1960s, Bartlett equipment was built for growers in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Israel, France, and United States as well as Canada.

In Canada, this equipment introduced the Bartlett name into other areas of the country. Bartlett equipment and the Bartlett reputation became know to all fruit and vegetable growers from coast to coast. All of these additions to the Bartlett line complemented the crop protection products, which remained the mainstay of the overall business.

Jim Bartlett took over the leadership of the company in the late 1950s when his father, Norman, suffered a stroke. After a full and eventful life with many credits to his name, Norman passed away in 1970 at the age of 77.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, the next generation of the Bartlett family became involved. The company name changed to N.M. Bartlett Inc. during the late 1970s and growth through service and commitment remained strong. The leadership provided by Jim to the company blossomed out into the industry.

Jim spent considerable time and effort working for effective policy. He advocated tirelessly on behalf of the industry to the federal government on issues of cross border importation. He championed the first minor use registration of pesticides program in Canada in 1977 to help keep Canadian horticultural growers competitive. And he was an early promoter of the need for federal help to bring new crop protection products to the small acre crops that make up the diverse horticulture industry in Canada.

Jim served as chair of the national organization now known as CropLife Canada and was involved in the creation of the CropLife Ontario Council – working to balance the interests of the industry with the interests of society.

He was an active member of a group that brought the first Ontario horticultural conference in Toronto. Today, that annual event is known as the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention and Jim’s grandson, Matt Peters, has served as its president. He’s one of eight grandchildren that represent the fourth generation in the Bartlett family business.

Jim continued to be actively involved in all the aspects of the business until 1981, when he had a severe heart attack. At that time, his brother-in-law, Hec Little, son-in-law Don Peters, and son, Craig Bartlett, became the management nucleus with Jim serving as a semi-retired advisor. This management team oversaw a broadening sales force of 13 across Canada and continued successfully through the 1980s. When Jim retired in 1987, he was elected as Chairman of the Board, and his son, Craig Bartlett, became president of the company.

Jim passed away in 2011, one year shy of the business celebrating 100 years. He was conducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame in November 2016, recognized as a visionary, passionate advocate and respected voice in Canadian agriculture. He left behind a lasting legacy in a family business that continues to have a positive impact on Canadian horticulture.

The values set out by Norman and Jim have been carried forward in the third and fourth generation’s business goals and commitments. Service and dedication to the horticultural industry in Canada is still first and foremost.

In the words of Craig Bartlett: “We at N.M. Bartlett Inc. are proud of the heritage and values that the first two generations established, and the company looks forward to a future where we will continue to apply these time-tested values.”

Norman Bartlett himself would have been proud of the accomplishments to date of the little, privately-owned family business he started 105 years ago.
Published in Companies
August 28, 2017, Washington - In today’s modern, high-density orchards, growers are constantly seeking new ways to match the biology of their trees with emerging technologies in mechanization. The goal: improve both yields and efficiency.

"It’s true that some technologies don’t exist yet, but the compact, planar architectures with precision canopy management are most suitable for future mechanization and even for robotics," said Matthew Whiting, Washington State University research horticulturist. “So it is kind of an exciting time for what will be a new era of tree fruit production, as more and more technologies become available."

Research labs and research orchards are driving new developments, but in many cases, they’re happening with innovative growers and private companies, he said.

“Growers are innovating with orchard systems and varieties and architectures, and that’s fueling university research in many cases, and conversely, universities are driving new genotypes and how to manage and grow them best,” Whiting said. “It’s all coming together as it has never before, and it is an exciting time.”

At the same time, employing the mechanization tools that already exist can take a variety of forms, across all four seasons.

Those platforms you’re using for harvest? You can use them for pruning, green thinning and training, too.

Two growers whose companies have been pushing forward with platforms, hedgers and other tools shared their insights for automating tasks in winter, spring, summer and fall with Good Fruit Grower.

For Rod Farrow, who farms 520 acres of apples at Lamont Fruit Farm in Waterport, New York, the emphasis has been to increase income with high-value varieties and to reach maximum potential income on his standard varieties, Honeycrisp, Fuji and Gala.

Almost everything is planted on Budagovsky 9 rootstock in 11-foot by 2-foot spacing, and he’s been planting and pruning to a fruiting wall for almost 18 years.

“It’s less about employing mechanization by season than about deciding the orchard system — as much as anything, making sure the system that you plant now is suitable for robot use,” he said. “If it’s not, you’re going to be in trouble in terms of how you can adapt that new technology, which is coming really fast.”

In the past two years, Farrow also has elected to install 3-foot taller posts in new plantings, allowing for a 2-foot taller system intended to increase production from 60 to 70 bins per acre to a more predictable 80-bin range. READ MORE 
Published in Equipment
The tip-and-pour method, as well as poorly designed pumps, can expose workers to injury and companies to significant financial losses.

Every day, handlers and applicators transfer potentially hazardous chemicals and concentrates such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and liquid fertilizers from large drums into smaller containers or mixing tanks. This transfer process can have serious consequences if manual “tip-and-pour” techniques or poorly designed pumps are used.

Whether the chemicals are toxic, corrosive, or flammable, the danger of accidental contact can pose a severe hazard to workers.

In fact, each year 1,800 to 3,000 preventable occupational incidents involving pesticide exposure are reported in the U.S. A closed system of transferring chemicals reduces unnecessary exposures by providing controlled delivery of chemical products without fear of worker exposure, over-pouring, spilling, or releasing vapours.

“When handling pesticides, toxicity and corrosiveness are the main dangers, but even organic pesticides can be harmful if there is exposure,” says Kerry Richards, Ph.D., president elect of the American Association of Pesticide Safety Educators and former director of Penn State’s Pesticide Safety Education Program. “No matter what their toxicity level, all chemicals, even those that are organic are a particular contact exposure risk if they are corrosive.”

In addition to the potential for injury, there can also be serious financial ramifications for the grower or ag product manufacturing facility if pesticides or liquid chemicals spill.

“Beyond workers compensation issues related to exposure, there can be other huge potential liabilities,” Richards says. “This is particularly true if a pesticide gets into a water source, kills fish, or contaminates drinking water.”

Richards, who works with the National Pesticide Safety Education Center, has seen and heard many examples of worker and environmental exposure from pesticides during more than 30 years of pesticide safety education experience.

“Exposure risk is highest for those loading chemicals into mix tanks because it is more concentrated and hazardous before diluted with water,” she says. “Any time you lose containment of the chemical, such as a spill, the risks can be serious and spiral out of control.”

Corrosive chemicals, for example, can severely burn skin or eyes, and many chemical pesticides are toxic when touched or inhaled.

“Some organic herbicides are so highly acidic that they essentially burn the waxy cuticle off the above ground parts of plants, killing them,” says Richards. “If you splash it in your eye or on your skin, it can burn in the same way and cause significant damage.”

Some chemicals are flammable as well, and if not properly handled and contained, can be ignited by sparking from nearby motors or mechanical equipment. The danger of a fire spreading can be serious both in the field and at ag product manufacturing facilities.

In addition to the cost of cleanup or treating injuries, substantial indirect costs can also be incurred. These include supervisors’ time to document the incident and respond to any added government inspection or scrutiny, as well as the potential for slowed grower production or even a temporary shutdown at ag manufacturing plants.

“The direct and indirect costs of a pesticide spill or injury can be substantial, not the least of which is the loss of wasted chemicals,” says Richards. “Pesticides, particularly newer concentrated formulations, are very expensive so spilling a few ounces could cost you several hundred dollars in lost product during a single transfer.”

Traditional practices of transferring liquid chemicals suffer from a number of drawbacks.

Manual techniques, such as the tip-and-pour method, are still common today. Tipping heavy barrels or even 2.5-gallon containers, however, can lead to a loss of control and over pouring.

“When manually transferring chemicals from bulk containers, it is very difficult to control heavy drums,” cautions Richards. “I’d advise against it because of the significantly increased risk of exposure or a spill, and the added potential of a back injury or muscle strain.”

Although a number of pump types exist for chemical transfer (rotary, siphon, lever-action, piston and electric), most are not engineered as a sealed, contained system. In addition, these pumps can have seals that leak, are known to wear out quickly, and can be difficult to operate, making precise volume control and dispensing difficult.

In contrast, closed systems can dramatically improve the safety and efficiency of chemical transfer. California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, in fact, requires a closed system for mixing and loading for certain pesticides so handlers are not directly exposed to the pesticide.

“The availability of new technology that creates a closed or sealed system is ideal for handling pesticides or other dangerous chemicals, and should become a best management practice,” suggests Richards. “With such devices ... pesticide handlers can maintain a controlled containment from one vessel to another and significantly reduce any potential for exposure or spill.”

A sealed system delivers liquids to an intermediate measuring device and is useful for low toxicity liquids. A closed system moves the material from point A to point B through hoses using dry-break fittings on the connection points. This prevents leaking and exposure to the handler which helps guarantee safety. Liquids are transferred from the source container, into the measuring system, and then to the mix tank.

Small, versatile, hand-operated pressure pumps are engineered to work as a system, which can be either closed or sealed. The pumps can be used for the safe transfer of more than 1,400 industrial chemicals, including the most aggressive pesticides.

These pumps function essentially like a beer tap. The operator attaches the pump, presses the plunger several times to build up a low amount of internal pressure, and then dispenses the liquid. The device is configured to provide precise control over the fluid delivery, from slow (1ML/ 1 oz.) up to 4.5-gallons per minute, depending on viscosity.

Because such pumps use very low pressure (<6 PSI) to transfer fluids through the line and contain automatic pressure relief valves, they are safe to use with virtually any container from 2-gallon jugs to 55-gallon drums.

When Jon DiPiero managed Ricci Vineyards, a small wine grape vineyard in Sonoma, Calif., he sought a safer, more efficient way to transfer pesticides for mixing and spraying that complied with the state’s closed system requirement for certain pesticides.

“We had to fill 2.5-gallon containers from a 55-gallon drum,” says DiPiero. “Traditional tipping and pouring from a drum wasn’t going to work due to the potential for spills, splashes, over pouring and chemical exposure, as well as the state mandate for a closed system for some pesticides.”

DiPiero turned to GoatThroat Pumps and was happy with the results for a number of reasons.

“Because the pump is closed, sealed, and allows containers to remain in an upright position, it complied with state regulation and virtually eliminated the potential for all forms of chemical exposure,” DiPiero says.

He adds the air pressure supplied by the hand pump allows the precise flow required into a measuring cylinder.

In case of overfill, “the operator can open a valve to release air pressure and the pesticide will backflow into the tank with no cross contamination,” DiPiero says. “This gave us the exact amount we needed so there was no waste.”

According to DiPiero, a multi-directional spray attachment also enables rinsing of every corner of the container without having to pour into it and shake it. He says this helps to minimize exposure when cleaning a container for reuse and satisfies California “triple rinsing” requirements.

“Whether for pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or liquid fertilizers, a closed and sealed pump design could help with the safe production or mixing of any liquid chemical,” says DiPiero.

When Lancaster Farms, a wholesale container plant nursery serving the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, required a lower pH to adjust its well water for a pesticide spray application, it had to transfer sulfuric acid to buffer the spray water.

According to Shawn Jones, Lancaster Farms’ propagation and research manager, the nursery chose to purchase 55-gallon drums of sulfuric acid to raise chemical pH. The drums of chemicals were much more cost effective than multiple 2.5-gallon containers and much easier to recycle. However, Jones was wary of the danger that tipping and pouring acid from the drums would pose, along with pouring bleach and another strong disinfectants for different uses in the propagation area.

“We use 40 percent sulfuric acid to buffer our spray water,” Jones says. “Our irrigation water is all recycled from ponds, with the drum storage areas relatively close to our water source, so we wanted to avoid any possibility of accidental spillage.”

Previously, the nursery had used siphon pumps to transfer the acid, bleach, and disinfectant, but Jones was dissatisfied with this approach.

“None of our siphon pumps lasted more than six months before we had to replace them, and none allowed metering with the kind of precision we required,” he says.

Instead, Jones chose to implement several closed, sealed GoatThroat Pumps, along with graduated cylinders for precise measurement.

“With the pumps, the drums always remain in an upright position so they won’t tip over accidentally,” Jones says.

The one-touch flow control dispenses liquids at a controlled rate.

“We get precise measurement into our mix tanks. We use every drop, spill nothing, and waste nothing.”

In terms of longevity, Jones’ first sealed pump has already lasted six years and outlasted a dozen previous siphon pumps.

“Our GoatThroat Pumps paid for themselves in safety and savings our first growing season, and should last a decade or more with just routine maintenance or repair,” Jones concludes. “Any grower, farmer, or nursery that needs to move or measure dangerous liquids safely and reliably should consider one.”

Agricultural chemicals are very expensive, and growers are always looking for ways to decrease the cost of inputs to help increase profits. Sealed systems and closed systems allow for accurate and precise measuring of chemicals, which ensures that you’re using only the amount of product required and not one extra drop.

Taking the guesswork out of measuring costly materials, and providing an efficient means of transferring custom blended or dilute products from original containers to mix tanks or back pack sprayers cuts input costs. This keeps expenses to a minimum, with the important bonus of increasing the safety of handlers by reducing the potential exposure to the chemical, which helps increase the bottom line and can assist with regulatory compliance.
Published in Chemicals
July 20, 2017, Ontario - Grapes and apples are high-value crops that require adequate water to grow properly. low water conditions such as drought stress have a negative impact on grapes and apples, lowering yields and reducing fruit quality.

The Water Adaption Management and Quality Initiative project is using a suite of technology to determine soil moisture for grapes, apple and tender fruit and improve recording and monitoring of natural and artificial irrigation events to create best management practices and improve water conservation and efficiency while increasing yields. For more, check out the video above!
Published in Irrigating
July 19, 2017 - In 2016, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulation Agency (PMRA) completed a re-evaluation of carbaryl, a common chemical thinning regime for Canadian apple producers.

The re-evaluation led to some changes and restrictions on the product label. This included eliminating its use in residential areas plus as an insecticide on some fruit and vegetable crops.

Apple thinning has remained on the label but at reduced rates:
  • Maximum seasonal rate of 1.5 kg a.i./ha and an REI of 14 days for hand thinning [high-density trellis production such as spindle or super spindle]
  • Maximum seasonal rate of 1.0 kg a.i./ha and an REI of 17 days for hand thinning [dwarf, semi-dwarf and full-sized trees]
As a result, research is underway to discover a new thinning regime for Canadian apple producers.

Researchers from Cornell Cooperative, CCE Lake Ontario Fruit Program educator and the Lamont Fruit farm conducted a three-year mechanical thinning trial. Watch above for more!
Published in Chemicals
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