The 2023 growing season in North America is getting ready to get real busy real quick, especially up in the Pacific Northwest where specialty crops like hops reign supreme. Coming off of a challenging year for U.S. hop production in 2022 that saw crop yields down more than 12% and the value of U.S. production down 7% from 2021’s record year has growers looking for ways get yields back on track and reduce operating costs on chemicals, labor and fuel.
There are other challenges causing concern. Hops are a major export crop for U.S. growers and with Germany’s disappointing hop yields in 2022, demand is sure to be up. However, as the European Union marches closer to 2030 and the stated goal of reducing pesticides use by 50% is causing stress. Though the deadline is still years away, compliance with maximum residue limits (MRLs) has intensified in Europe as well as in other nations as each has its own accepted levels of MRLs. For U.S. hop growers, maintaining the integrity and quality of their hop crop as it relates to chemical use is paramount.
Smart Apply has its fingers on the pulse of the U.S. hop industry. In January, our technical sales representative, Ryan Kuch had the opportunity to lead an educational sessions for the Washington Hop Commission that discussed how the Smart Apply Intelligent Spray Control System can help growers rise above the challenges. NOTE: the Smart Apply System is the only system for specialty crop growers that combines Li-DAR-enabled precision spraying and automated data collection during each spray event, giving growers a comprehensive digital record of their chemical use, savings, labor, and vine/tree counts among other data points.
Here are five takeaways from Ryan’s discussion:
ONE: The Smart Apply System’s method of action is uniquely suited to the growth cycle of hop vines. You hop growers know how quickly your vines grow – as much a foot a day. Once vines reach 18 feet, they begin to leaf out and reach maximum density. Over the growing season there is a tremendous amount of change in individual plants.
And that’s exactly what the Smart Apply System is designed for. The system includes LiDAR – light detection and ranging – which detects the height and density of individual vines and trees. The Smart Apply Systems automatically applies chemicals based on what the LiDAR “sees.” Young vines receive a much smaller volume of chemicals while mature, leafier vines receive a higher volume of chemicals. There is no guess work or calculations needed by the operator to change application volumes.This is a huge difference from traditional air blast sprayers that apply a uniform cloud of chemicals during a spray session.
Smart Apply’s method of action stops growers from over apply chemicals. Early in the season, growers can realized a reduction in chemicals applied of up to 80%. The Smart Apply precision spray also uses less chemicals late in the season. The average reduction is right around 50%.
TWO: Less chemicals consumed = less chemical costs. This is always a good thing. When growers save an average of 50% on the annual chemical buy, that is a boost to operational efficiency and profits. Additionally, fewer tank loads of chemicals also equates to less labor needed for mixing, less time spent driving back and forth to the shed for fill-ups.
THREE: The Smart Apply System dramatically reduces airborne drift and run off. This is a significant benefit on multiple levels. “Right sizing” chemical application reduces air borne drift by up to 87% and chemical runoff by up to 92%. The reduction of drift lessens the possibility of contaminating or over treating crops in adjacent fields, which would hurt crops destined for export. Reduced drift and chemical runoff is also a significant environmental win for the health of the air, soil, wildlife, humans, and groundwater.
NOTE: These numbers are based on research conducted by the USDA over 10 years of research and development of the Smart Apply System.
FOUR: The Smart Apply System turns virtually any air blast sprayer into the most important data-producing”connected device” a grower has. Most people know the Smart Apply System for precision spraying. Here’s a lesser known fact: it’s a connected device powered by an app. Our proprietary software coupled with our Android 11 RuggON tablet enables growers to pre-program a day’s spraying, including multiple tractors and operators as well as documenting chemicals used in the day’s spray. Once you start spraying, the Smart Apply System captures data relevant to the spray session such as the amount of chemicals used, chemical applied by track and by plant, chemical savings, tractor speed, labor, and other data points. This data is uploaded to the Cloud and archived.
Smart Apply generates reports based on the data, giving growers a digital record of immediate and historical data on all spray sessions. Data can be used to support farm operations, as verification of chemical use for regulatory and export purposes, for reporting to wholesalers and brokers, and to support sustainability efforts of brands and consumer groups. It eliminates the chore of paper-based note taking and possible loss of these notes as is often the case. Smart Apply System data is safe in the Cloud when you need it.
Growers also have the option of integrating with the Deere Operations Center.
FIVE: The Smart Apply System is a kit: hop growers don’t need to purchase yet another sprayer to get the benefits. We all like our trucks, tractors and gadgets, but if you’ve got enough “stuff” in your shed, you don’t need another sprayer to get precision sprayer and data. All you need is the Smart Apply System, a kit that can be retrofitted to virtually any air blast sprayer. Learn more about Smart Apply’s GEN2 System here.
After Ryan’s presentation last January, a number of hop growers placed orders for Smart Apply Systems. If you’d like to learn more, visit our website or catch a few videos. Smart Apply is represented in the Pacific Northwest by highly respected authorized dealers who sell, install and service our systems. Find a dealer here. You can schedule an educational session or field demo by emailing us at Hello@SmartApply.com.