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UF developing smart technology to help citrus farmers

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Posted at 10:30 AM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 10:30:33-05

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Like your cell phone, technology is quickly growing and evolving. Technology when will comes to growing citrus is no exception. Florida citrus growers are currently in the middle of harvesting season, and now have a new tool in their belts using artificial intelligence.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is a developing a smart tree-crop sprayer. It can automatically detect citrus trees, calculate their height, leaf density, and fruit count. This will allow farmers to target tress, and according to research by the University of Florida, reduce chemicals by 30%.

“We are in what we call the fourth of cultural evolution,” said Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis, Associate Professor, University of Florida. “The first one was maybe a little over 100 year ago with mechanization, tractors, harvesters, they totally changed the culture. The second was chemicals like herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers. The third being genetics. Now, automation, AI, maybe later with nanotechnology biotechnology. They will reform our culture one more time.”

The system also uses machine vision, GPS, and LiDaR to help detected objects not to spray such as a water pump or pole. Dr. Ampatzidis says that the cost to protect citrus tree and their fruit make up for a significant part of a farmer’s budget. Less chemicals and pesticides not only is more efficient, but also save farmers on operational costs, which are then later passed on to the consumer.

While these sprayers are currently being used on only citrus trees in Florida, Dr. Ampatzidis says his team is studying how this technology can be applied to other crops like peaches, apples, and pecans. He also hopes to expand this technology to fertilizer spreaders as well in the near future.