Rob Willmott, Fresno State's orchard manager, saw an immediate savings in time and chemicals used with technology he learned about at this year's World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.
Willmott, a 2013 Fresno State graduate with a plant science degree, oversees 190 acres of nuts, olives, citrus and stone fruit on the university farm that spans 1,000 acres where the cities of Fresno and Clovis meet.
His first experience with the AgOtter sprayer system in a 36-acre almond block on the university farm netted him a $4,000 savings in chemicals alone. Factor the time it would have taken the driver to refill the Air-O-Fan sprayer several more times and the cost to run the small tractor, and the savings get even greater.
Spray rates are controlled through ground speed sensors, meters and the controller, which continuously adjusts valves to ensure target rates are maintained. All this can be controlled and monitored from a smart phone or iPad.
Fresno State is also working with an irrigation system provided by Netafim and CalWest Rain that lets Willmott effectively adjust water applications, depending on the soil type and the tree's needs.
Within a 36-acre block of almonds planted in March 2016 are three soil types, ranging from a sandy soil to heavier clay. Prior to planting, Willmott said the field was mapped based on soil type. He now has a chart with the three distinct soil types in different colors.
This appears to have a positive impact on trees as one of Willmott’s studies has been to measure trunk girth on the trees and watch the changes based on the different soil types. This process has allowed him to watch trees in those soils that do not have the necessary fertility, and to augment them with proper fertilizers.
The study was part of Willmott’s project as a 2016 graduate of the Almond Board of California’s leadership program.