Reducing Chemical Costs in Apples: Meeting Mandates, Rising Costs Head On

An editorial by Gary Vandenbark, Chief Engineer, Smart Apply Inc.

The pressure to reduce chemicals on apples and other specialty crops has never been greater. If you’re a grower, you know what I’m talking about. Whether you’re selling to wholesalers, supermarket chains, consumer product companies, exporters, or direct to consumers, customers want fewer chemicals plus documentation as part of their sustainability initiatives. 

Another group that wants to reduce chemical use is growers themselves. Pesticides and herbicides are expensive. Growers also want to protect the health of their orchards so future generations can continue to farm.

Coming soon: mandates on chemical use

Exporting apples is big business. About 30% of the U.S. apples are shipped overseas. The USDA Specialty Crops Trade Issues Report noted that in fiscal year 2021, the export value for U.S. specialty crops increased from $23.7 billion in 2020 to $24.9 billion in 2021. Processed fruits and vegetables saw a 7.5% increase. However, there’s  trouble ahead from the European Union’s (EU) hazard-based approach to pesticide minimum residue limits, which will make exporting to EU nations more restrictive. 

The closer we get to 2030, the greater the restrictions. That’s when the EU’s mandated 50% reduction of pesticide use goes into effect on crops raised within the EU. Farmers must also comply with mandated record keeping on pesticide use. Already, U.S. apples, with the exception of small quantities of organic apples, are not shipped to the EU due to the potential presence of residues of some commonly used compounds. This is true even though, when found, the residues are at levels far below the U.S. EPA tolerances.

Reduce + document chemical use, lower costs with the Smart Apply System

Fortunately, there’s a solution that allows apple growers to take the bull by the horns and reduce chemical use—and costs—by an average of 50% and create digital documentation of all spray events. The Smart Apply® Intelligent Spray Control System is a one-of-a-kind precision spray system that combines LiDAR to eliminate excess spraying of chemicals and the negative impacts of run off and airborne drift, with Cloud-connectivity that captures data during each spray event. From this digital record, growers can track and document chemical use and savings, water use, confirm every row was sprayed, manage labor, and easily support various domestic and international reporting requirements. 

The Smart Apply System is a kit that’s retrofitted onto new or older air blast sprayers, making it easy and cost efficient to use less chemicals and lower costs without sacrificing yields. It also helps satisfy mandates like those set forth by the EU and the desires of all others who want to see less chemicals on the fruit they eat.

See the Smart Apply System in action and learn more on our website. You can also email us at

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