Precision agriculture technology featured at 2021 Pomesters RidgeFest

Anna Wallis, Apple Production Specialist MSU Extension


Precision agriculture technology was at the forefront of this year’s RidgeFest, held on August 27, 2021. RidgeFest is a field tour held annually by the Michigan Pomesters industry group in ‘The Ridge’ area, just north of Grand Rapids, to celebrate the rich history of this fruit growing region with education, development, and collaboration among industry Pomester members. The tour featured precision technologies available and under development for tree fruit production. Over 250 people attended the event, including farmers, extension, and other industry representatives. MSU Extension assisted in organizing the event, including coordinating the Computer Vision technologies stop.

The beginning of the 2021 Ridgefest field tour was hosted by Thome Orchards, Sparta, MI, on July 27. Photo: A. Sommers.

The first stop on the tour, hosted by Bernard J. Thome Orchards, included a showcase of Computer Vision Technologies. Dr. Bruno Basso’s lab from Michigan State University showed their drone in action, used to capture variation in orchards and other crop systems. Data is used to develop models for more precise management. Next, several companies shared their technologies for crop load management and pest scouting, including Farm VisionVivid Machines, and Automated Fruit Scouting.

Richard Price from Bruno Basso’s lab, Michigan State University, demonstrates the drone used to collect imagery used to describe variation in orchard canopy and other crop systems. The data is used to develop models for precision crop load management. Photo: A. Wallis.

Vivid Machines, a Canadian company co-founded by Jenny Lemieux and Jonathan Binas, demonstrated a vehicle-mounted system that provides real-time data displayed on a mobile device as the operator travels down the row. The technology is designed to collect information on blossom cluster counts, crop load, insect pests, and diseases, among other things. The group shared photos of applets viewed by human eyes vs. their computer vision cameras, illustrating how applets can be detected, even against green backgrounds, and counted and sized The company is taking a limited number of contracts for growers to trial their Vivid X system in the 2022 season.

Applets as ‘seen’ by human eye (left) vs. computer vision (right), enabling detection in the orchard against the canopy background. Photos: Vivid Machines.

Farm Vision Technologies, founded by Patrick Plonski and I. Volkan Isler of the University of Minnesota, shared their work developing a standalone app for precision management in tree fruit, and the research they have been doing in collaboration with MSU Extension. Their technology been developed in partnership with Jim Luby and other apple industry members. The technology is sensitive enough to detect fruit as early as 6-8mm stage, guiding thinning decisions early in the season. It is also used to estimate crop load later in the season. Results of research this season and results will be shared in future outreach.

Scott Erickson and Patrick Plonski, Farm Vision Technologies, discuss their research on farms in the Ridge area in 2021 using their smart-device app for fruitlet detection. Photo: A. Wallis.

FruitScout, a Washington-based company, explained their whole-systems approach to gathering data using a smartphone and integrating it into a cloud-based PCLM dashboard. Data collected on buds, flowers, young fruit, and mature fruit in the orchard throughout the season, and then integrated into the dashboard, which growers can use to make management decisions.

FruitScout demonstrates their full-system approach to precision crop load management. Photo: A. Wallis.

The second stop included a sprayer demo hosted by Rob Steffens Orchards. The runway type of event featured each sprayer moving down an orchard row, with eight different sprayers in the lineup. Machines included conventional airblast, multi-row, air-assist, and over the row sprayers.

Equipment and companies included in the sprayer demo coordinated by Paul Umlor. Photos: A. Wallis.

The decision by organizers to highlight precision agriculture technologies in Ridgefest this season was intentional and reflects the industry’s excitement about these innovative tools and approaches. The tree fruit industry in Michigan recognizes the tremendous potential of these technologies to improve farming efficiencies and ultimately increase farm productivity. Many growers are committed to learning more about the options currently available, as well as innovations that will become available in the future, through Ridgefest, on-farm trials, and other opportunities. MSU Extension will continue to prioritize education and research on these technologies — incluing participartion in PACMAN — in the coming seasons.