Ep. 55: Using Spray Technology for Site-Specific Crop Management with Simer Virk, Ph.D.
Ep. 55: Using Spray Technology for Site-Specific Crop Management with Simer Virk, Ph.D.
“Crops require site-specific management.”
That’s how Simer Virk summarizes the “why” behind his agriculture technology research.
As a precision ag specialist and assistant professor at the University of Georgia, Virk’s career revolves heavily around the systems and technology of planters, sprayers and other application equipment, like drones.
But perhaps the most impressive testing he’s completed so far is his work on sprayer technologies - which according to Virk, is an important piece of equipment that lags behind the tech capabilities of other ag systems like planters, for example.
“We have so much technology, but we’re not really there yet with spray technologies,” says Virk.
Coupled with a combination of other tech tools to accomplish variable rate applications, Virk is interested in evaluating sprayer nozzle technology.
For Virk and most growers, rate control has always been an important focus. With the help of Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) technology, growers can now improve sprayer accuracy down to each and every droplet from each nozzle on a sprayer boom.
“With PWM, we have the capability for solenoids at each nozzle to pulse at different rates across the boom to maintain the same application rate,” explains Virk. “PWM also provides individual nozzle control that can be turned on or off as needed.”
Virk experimented with PWM technology this past growing season to see “if this technology was fast enough to be able to implement site-specific weed management based on a prescription map, all while maintaining high speeds.”
Virk was impressed with the precision of each nozzle to come on at precisely the same spot as mapped.
“If you think about it, just imagine how fast those nozzles have to come on and off to be able to make sure we are hitting all the targets in the field at speeds of 12, 14, 16 miles per hour,” explains Virk.
Comparable to John Deere’s new See and Spray system, Virk concludes that “we are probably going to start seeing more of these types of machines tested” and says he’s excited to see where this technology goes.”
Here’s a glance at this episode:
[01:44] Simer introduces himself, and his background is precision ag technology.
[03:53] Simer discusses the weed prescription mapping and sprayer technology research he evaluates.
[05:45] Simer explains why variable rate application with Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs) is needed for southern crops like cotton and peanuts and why in-season, site-specific imagery is one of the best tools for farmers.
[08:54] Simer demonstrates how satellite imagery can help farmers determine where and how much fertilizer or other inputs are needed to capture a return on investment and boost yield.
[12:14] Discussing spray nozzle technology, Simer explains what Pulse Width Modulated (PWM) is as it relates to controlling application rates no matter what the ground speed is.
[15:50] Simer reveals the unique technological capabilities of PWN nozzle technology, including mapping by each nozzle.
[17:44] Simer describes the specific research he has worked on to test what he calls site-specific weed management and the benefits and pitfalls.
[22:20] Simer discusses his excitement and worries about drone spraying.
[28:35] Since researching the uniformity of drone spray applications, Simer discusses the features of drone spraying that are beneficial and those that need more testing.
[36:33] Simer shares his best advice for farmers using spray technology, including calibration and using the right nozzles.
[38:48] Simer leaves with what precision technologies he is most excited about.
Simer Virk is an assistant professor and extension precision ag specialist at the University of Georgia. Originally from India, Virk moved to the U.S. in 2010 where he was introduced to precision ag and worked with John Fulton at Auburn University. He completed his master's in ag engineering, worked for a sprayer company in Iowa for a few years, and came back to Georgia to do his Ph.D. in ag engineering. Since August 2020, Virk has been serving as an extension precision ag specialist for the state.
Welcome to Precision Points, an Ag Tech podcast where we plant seeds of innovation to inspire informed decisions about precision technology and its impact for growers like you. We explore precision ag tools and technology from the soil to the sky with your host Morgan Seger.
Morgan Seger (00:23):
Welcome back to Precision Points, an Ag Tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host, Morgan Seger, and in each episode, we work to bring you Ag Tech information and ideas. Today on the show, I'm joined by Simer Virk from the University of Georgia. Now, I had been following him on Twitter for a while, and he talks about some really interesting trials he does on growers' farms, working for the university and also in extension. He has a lot of experience across the board when it comes to precision ag and the mechanical systems that we use while farming. Today, our conversation really focuses on sprayer technology. Our conversation ranges from his research and what he's been looking at with sprayer technology to the PWM or pulse width modulated nozzle technology to sprayer drones and more. So here's my conversation with Simer Virk.
Morgan Seger (01:19):
Welcome back to Precision Points. Today on the show, I'm joined by Simer Virk from the University of Georgia. Welcome to the show.
Simer Virk (01:28):
Thanks, Morgan. It's a pleasure to be here, and thanks for having me on the show.
Morgan Seger (01:30):
I'm so excited for our conversation. Just now, before we started recording, we were talking about all the different ways this conversation could go, but before we dive in, could you just introduce yourself for our audience and share your background?
Simer Virk (01:44):
Sure. So my name's Simer Virk. I'm an assistant professor and extension precision ag specialist here at the University of Georgia. Background, just a quick brief intro. I'm actually originally from India, moved to the U.S. in 2010, and that's where I was introduced to precision ag and worked with John Fulton at Auburn University. Did my master's in ag engineering. Actually, worked for a sprayer industry up in Iowa for a couple of years before I came back here and did my Ph.D. in ag engineering, and right when I was finishing up, this opportunity came along for me to be in this position. And since August 2020, I've been in this position serving as an extension precision ag specialist for the state.
Morgan Seger (02:37):
Okay. And what do you do in that role?
Simer Virk (02:37):
So a lot of my responsibilities are what I call machinery systems along with precision ag because there is a lot of journal stuff related to planters, sprayers, and application equipment, whether it's proper calibration or operational considerations. So, we do a good bit of stuff on that. And then any precision ag technology that is related to planting, fertilizer spreading, spraying, or even harvest technologies and yield monitoring. So I say that I work in more of a space of any ag technology or ag data management on the row crop side to help growers make better decisions.
Morgan Seger (03:21):
Okay, great. So you're doing some research but also working directly with growers and consultants and things like that?
Simer Virk (03:28):
A majority of my employment is in extension. So I work closely with growers and consultants, not only just across the state, but even in the southeast, about what's new and upcoming, but also what we already have there and how we can maximize whether it's the machine efficiency, productivity or even precision placement of crop inputs.
Morgan Seger (03:53):
Awesome. Yeah, I know as we were prepping for the call that you cover a lot of things and that just comes with working hands-on with the growers so you can address their needs. Today, I'm really looking forward to focusing on sprayer technology. In June, I think, you tweeted a sprayer going through the field talking about on-farm research, and you said you were using a prescription weed map, and I was like, "What is he doing?"
Simer Virk (04:20):
So yeah, we're trying to evaluate some newer stuff on the sprayer side because one thing if I think about today is, and I usually say this if we look at some of our common row crop equipment, the planter is probably one of the machinery that has a lot of technology on it. And we're also actually using all that technology, well, it's not just changing downforce on the go or electric seed meters to weigh the seed, but we're also doing variable rate seeding, right? Now same way, if you think about a sprayer, we already had, from early on, rate controller, section control, and now more so individual nozzle control and pulse with modulation technology. But how many times have you heard someone say we're actually doing variable rate pesticide? And that's where we feel like we have so much technology, but we're not really there yet with the spray technologies as much as we are with, for example, planter technologies.
Morgan Seger (05:39):
Sure. Do you have a set of growers that you work with that are doing variable rate spray applications?
Simer Virk (05:45):
Yes, but not on the weed management side. Georgia is actually the second-largest state for cotton in the U.S. Texas is the first one. So we grow a lot of cotton and peanuts. Right now, there is a good bit of variable rate application going on, but it's more so for plant growth regulators (PGRs). It's the same sprayers. But that's where I'm working with some consultants because, in cotton, managing plant growth through the season is very important so that you can maximize your harvest efficiency. You don't want plants that are tall as a tree, and then there are a lot of areas in the field where there are growth differences. That requires us to change the application rates within the field. That's where one of the applications that we are working on is already being implemented. It's still kind of relatively new, but some of the growers I've been working with, our consultants, have been doing it for at least three or four years.
Simer Virk (07:04):
And in fact, actually in-season imagery is one of our best tools right now because when we're looking at anywhere from 50 to a 100-acre field and satellite imagery is getting more precise, even five-meter resolution. You are easily able to pick up in-season how the crops are doing… I don't want to say where they are not so good, but where they have low biomass versus high biomass. And that helps us dictate the different rates of PGRs.
Morgan Seger (07:33):
Okay. And so agronomically in cotton, I'm nowhere on the chart here; I'm very unfamiliar with this. So if we talk about the agronomics of cotton, you're saying as it's growing you would use PGRs to inhibit growth. Is that correct?
Simer Virk (07:49):
Yes, because a cotton plant is an indeterminate plant, not like corn where it grows and matures, in that if we don't control the growth, it will grow into a tree basically.
Morgan Seger (08:01):
Simer Virk (08:02):
So that's why using plant growth regulators controls plant growth. And I'm not a physiologist here. I'm more of an engineer who knows a lot about technology, but enough to be dangerous with it, that you want to control growth so that all the plant’s energy reserves are not going into the vegetative growth, but more so into the reproductive growth for yield size. You want to control it early in the season. And that's why we do anywhere from two to three PGR applications. And that's also a variety-dependent thing.
Morgan Seger (08:43):
That makes sense. And then, essentially, you would use in-season imagery to identify high vegetative areas, and those would maybe be the areas that would get the PGR.
Simer Virk (08:54):
Morgan Seger (08:54):
Yeah, more. Okay.
Simer Virk (08:54):
So one of the main differences we have down here is the variability in the fields. We have a lot of variability due to soil texture where we might have sandy soil in one part of the field and then you get in out in the middle of the field or one end of the field, where it’s heavy red clay, and we already know that any crop planted is going to behave or grow very differently in those parts. And that's where crops require site-specific management and satellite imagery. Basically, we're using basic vegetative indices or greenness. If it's more green, it's growing more, may need a little bit higher rate. If it's less green and not doing so well, may need a less rate. And there are also certain areas in the field in which it actually does not need any at all. So that's where some of the savings part comes in – where you don't need to apply or where you don't need any because the plants are already at a lower growth and doing what they need to.
Morgan Seger (10:09):
Sure. Because you could almost do the reverse and stunt them.
Simer Virk (10:12):
There is a lot of research, and some of it actually suggests that if you overdo the plant growth, it will actually hold yield in some varieties in some cases. You can reduce yield from overapplying, and you can also reduce yield from underapplication because then you're not able to control the growth effectively. And now it's a very large plant with less bolls and more vegetative matter.
Morgan Seger (10:50):
Sure. So even though we don't have any cotton in Ohio, it sounds like a lot of precision ag technology where you capture ROI in a lot of different ways. So it's not always straightforward – you're going to save X amount of chemicals, or you're going to get X amount of yield. It's really a combination of how the whole system comes together.
Simer Virk (11:07):
Yeah. And this is actually more so a systems approach because, and that's why it's hard to convince growers to think about it because we usually call plant growth regulator Piks, and if you start talking to a grower, they’re like well, “Piks cheap, I don't worry about that.” Well, that's not the thing, you know that the Piks are cheap, but you can go put in as much as you want. It's more so, how do we determine where to put how much is needed than just blindly going out and putting a uniform amount across the whole field? Whereas if you take, for example, a wave of late fertilizer. Now, fertilizer is super expensive, which changes the mentality. And maybe that's one of the reasons one of the most widely used precision ag technologies across the whole U.S. is variable rate fertilizer because people can see value in it immediately. There's a big cost associated with crop inputs.
Morgan Seger (12:14):
Sure, that makes a lot of sense. Well, you mentioned pulse width and modulated nozzle technology. Can you describe what that is for our listeners?
Simer Virk (12:22):
I mentioned earlier that we have had rate control technology on sprayers from early on. That was one of the most useful technologies. And to describe PWM, I have to describe a little bit about what a rate control function is. A rate controller is used when we are spraying in the field. The way we calibrate our sprayer is to say, "Hey, I want to put out 15 gallons to the acre volume, and I'm going to drive at 10 miles an hour." Let's say for a high-boy sprayer. Now that's where we calibrate it, but when we actually get out on the field, it becomes how many times are you really able to keep that 10 miles? Ground speed variations are very common as we're spraying. So that's where if we are only calibrated at that speed, we're doing a lot of under and over application.
Simer Virk (13:23):
The rate controller uses either a GPS or a radar to know what the ground speed is as we're spraying, and the rate controller is compensating the flow to make sure that it doesn't matter if our ground speed increases or decreases. It's still maintaining our target application rate, whether it's 15 gallons or 10 gallons. The way it does this is by increasing or decreasing pressure. If our speed increases, it increases the system pressure to make sure that we have the same application volume, and if our speed decreases, it decreases it. This is really good for maintaining the application rate, but maybe not so much for maintaining the spray quality or what we also call droplet size. Because anytime time our spray pressure changes, it changes droplet size.
Simer Virk (14:20):
This is where the new PWM technology comes into play. We want to do two things now. We not only want to maintain our application rate, but we also want to maintain our droplet size. PWM is a small pulsing solenoid that goes on the nozzle directly on the sprayer, whereas on a conventional sprayer, the nozzle is always on, the system is pulsing, and PWM valves are pulsing. The rate of pulsing is what's controlling the amount of liquid or the application rate. As our speed increases, the pulsing increases. As our speed decreases, the pulsing decreases. That's how we're keeping our application rate the same with ground speed changes, but now we're not relying on pressure, so that's also helping us keep our droplet or size or spray quality the same. Where this technology helps us, is by making sure that our application rate is the same as our droplet size. Again, there's a very small range where everything can fall apart. So that's why proper nozzle selection and speed selection, all still matter a lot.
Morgan Seger (15:50):
Okay. So what about when they turn in the field?
Simer Virk (15:54):
We have a turn compensation feature that is a built-in feature of PWM where you have a 120, 100-foot boom, and as it's turning right, the inner nozzles, if we don't have turn compensation, the inner nozzles are always putting more, and the outer are always putting less. With the PWM, we have the capability across the boom for solenoids to pulse at different rates to maintain the same application rate. And the other thing that PWM also provides is individual nozzle control because now we have something right on each nozzle that can turn it on and off as needed. So now we're talking about even more precision than a section controller on a sprayer where we have a spray boom plumbed together for six, eight, or ten nozzles together, and when it comes on and off, the whole section comes on and off together.
Morgan Seger (16:57):
So is that technology wired and showing on a monitor in the cab?
Simer Virk (17:02):
Yes. Everything is controlled via an in-cab display and in real-time. You can see which nozzles are coming on and off if you're using that. And then a lot of other feedback from the boom itself, the system pressure, the application rate, and even the mapping feature, that today, you can map by nozzle as you're spraying.
Morgan Seger (17:31):
Okay. That's so intense to think about building a prescription down that granular, but I think that that's the direction we're trying to get as precise and as efficient as possible.
Simer Virk (17:44):
And that's where I think our technologies where we can control the nozzles very precisely are everything. But you mentioned earlier that you saw my tweet about us testing in a field where we were trying to do site-specific weed management because that's a little bit newer of an area we are researching. John Deere just released their See and Spray technology, and we have a similar capability on a sprayer, but we're trying to determine if that when we spray, we can spray at high speeds. Rate changes are relatively easier to implement when we spray. We don't spray at four to five miles. We spray it at 12, 14, or 16 miles, or even some growers will till even higher. So if you think about it, how fast those nozzles have to come on and off to be able to make sure we are hitting all the targets in the field.
Simer Virk (18:50):
That’s one of the things we are testing to see if we have the fast enough technology to be able to implement site-specific weed management.
Morgan Seger (19:01):
What did you learn from the field you did this spring?
Simer Virk (19:04):
This was our first attempt at what I like to call site-specific weed management. The sprayer we had was nowhere close to what John Deere has on the See and Spray, but it has the capability to turn the nozzles on and off based on a prescription map. And I was impressed about how precise the technology is if you have a weed map built and if you have your sprayer settings set up right, which means your look ahead distance, your GPS offset, and everything else is correct, that we actually have the technology for that nozzle to precisely come on at the same spot. That’s what we learned on the technology side.
Simer Virk (19:57):
Interestingly, our site-specific weed management didn't work too well because again, we were in a field where there was a lot of weed pressure and it's almost like, if you missed a few, you might as well better not do it because then there are more consequences of missing a weed than overapplying from that perspective. So what we learned from that side was not every field may be a perfect fit for site-specific weed management.
Morgan Seger (20:28):
Okay, that's fair. I could see it playing a role if I'm thinking back to my years of looking at satellite imagery for growers that have a planned burndown in the spring before they plant. Lots of times, that imagery would show where they have some weed outbreaks and things like that. So, something like that that could maybe work on a bigger scale, but interesting.
Simer Virk (20:50):
Yeah, so I don't think we're there yet from a satellite imagery perspective to be really able to create weed maps because we need more resolution. In this field, we also compared satellite imagery versus drone imagery. Because we’re flying at a hundred feet above the ground and that's what our prescription map was based on. So we're able to pick up whereas satellite imagery was telling us, you got this three-acre area that all needs to be sprayed because of the resolution from the UAV, it was only 50% of that because all those were very much spread. And that's where I think, if, like you were saying, if it's a fallow ground and you're just going to go, and you are able to pick it up before with satellite imagery, that's great. But I think a lot of in-season stuff, especially for post-emergence applications, won't work well because there's a crop on crop, green on green. So I think that's where John Deere's systems, where it's a real-time sense and spray kind of thing, comes into play. But again, we're probably going to start seeing more of those machines tested this year. We’ll see where that goes with that technology.
Morgan Seger (22:20):
Sure. So let's stay on the topic of using a drone for aerial imagery, but what about for spraying?
Simer Virk (22:29):
That's another area I want to echo what Dr. Fulton said in one of the podcasts that if 2022 is going to be remembered for something, it will be the year of spray drones because I would have never thought that we would see that much interest in drone sprayers. Again, we don't know a whole lot about them yet. But, interestingly, we have a lot of consultants and growers here in the southeast that are trying it. And one of my worries is that there are still a lot of rules and regulations around it, and we want to make sure we're doing everything right because one bad incident or one mistake and we can probably push the technology back on not being used where it's supposed to be correctly. But we're seeing a lot of interest. We're doing some research ourselves on how drones can fit into some of the stuff we do in row crops or even some specialty crops down here.
Morgan Seger (23:44):
Sure. How do you think it will fit in with traditional ground spraying?
Simer Virk (23:50):
Well, the first thing, because I've gotten this caution so many times now, is that the drone sprayer is not there to replace the ground application. I don't think it will or can because that's not what it's meant for, right? It's got its unique place where. A perfect example is a spot spraying application where you've got a 40, 50-acre field or even larger, and especially in-season, you might have weed escapes. Why pull out the bigger 90-foot rig when you know you can take care of that five, 10 acres with a drone sprayer? That's a pretty good unique application, right?
Simer Virk (24:35):
Another thing that I'm working on with some colleagues down here in the southeast is high-clearance sprayers. Not the high boy or self-propelled but the high-clearance sprayers that can go in corn at the later stages for fungicide applications. That's one of the areas we're really seeing great interest in where growers want to utilize a drone sprayer to get their fungicide out because there are only so many other commercial aerial applicators out there, and if the season is where everybody wants to get a spray application in, you know maybe a week down on the list for him to come and spray your field. Whereas if you have capabilities with the spray drone, you can go ahead and do that.
Simer Virk (25:28):
The more interest and I think where it's actually a better fit right now is more so in specialty crops, and I'm not sure what all y'all have up there in Ohio, but in Georgia, we have a lot of other small acreages, high cash valley crops, blueberries, pecans, peaches. And that's where I've had four or five calls from blueberry growers who are like, "Hey, we have already purchased this, and we think this is a great tool that can save us a lot of money and also protect our crop." So if they are seeing a value in that themselves, I think that's great, but we just have to again, be careful about rules and regulations. And a lot of testing we're doing is not so much from the efficacy side of different pesticides because right now I'm not even sure what all can we at least spray or not. You definitely don't want to put anything in the tank that is not labeled for aerial application.
Simer Virk (26:40):
So if you think about a ground sprayer, there's a nozzle every 15 to 20 inches on a boom. There's a certain overlap between each nozzle. So when we talk about a 60 or 90-foot boom application with a ground sprayer, it's pretty relatively uniform across the whole boom, right? Now you think about a drone sprayer, you put two nozzles right under the propeller, and they're not at 15 or 20, and we're still using conventional nozzles, which are meant to have some overlap. And then you put these two fans or propellers right above it. There's nothing uniform about that application. So that's what we're testing is, okay, what does it really even look like? Because one thing a grower is going to ask, and they're still asking, is not just what rate, how many gallons per acre because our tank size is so much smaller. Can I spray but also, how wide can I spray? And we don't want to tell them, hey. You can go up 10 feet up in the air and spray 24 feet because, again, we don't know what the uniformity looks like. We would rather be a little lower and make sure we have enough coverage and uniformity than trying to just get the job done.
Morgan Seger (28:04):
Are you using water-sensitive paper, or what are you doing to see what that spray pattern looks like?
Simer Virk (28:10):
Yeah, we are right now. We've done two or three different drones along with some other colleagues and what we're doing is across the whole swath, we're putting water-sensitive paper as close as every six inches. We spent, with a particular drone, 3000 cards in a day.
Morgan Seger (28:34):
Oh, my word.
Simer Virk (28:35):
Just looking at it, we did 45 different combinations just to get a little nerdy there at five different application rates, three different heights, and three different nozzle types. And when we did all that together plus the replications, it was like 45 different combinations, and then we got cards out in a strip every six inches apart and that strip is about 20 feet wide. So we're looking at what the spray is doing under the drone, how uniform it is. And we're noticing some cool stuff, which resulted in, "Hey, you may not want to do this." Because one thing that worries me right now – a perfect example – is that all the spray drones that are available out there, come with a small size standard fan nozzle, XR nozzle. What that nozzle does is create a lot of fines, and now you think about how you put a spray drone with that nozzle 10 feet above the ground with propellers on top of it. There is so much happening under that with uniformity, there are some big peaks right under the drone and then it just goes pretty leveled out. We're trying to analyze the data to see, "Well yeah, you're getting a very small amount of product, let's say 10 feet, but does that mean that's what your swath is?"
Simer Virk (30:10):
Because that way, and some of our other colleagues who are doing some efficacy research, have seen streaking in the field and that's where it's coming from – that if your swath is not right, especially on the edges of the swath, you're getting such a small concentration and sometimes it may not be enough to get the efficacy you want.
Morgan Seger (30:33):
Okay, that makes sense. Do you see the propellers pushing the droplets down, or do they kind of bring them up and around? What's the airflow do?
Simer Virk (30:43):
I think one of the cool features about a spray drone, which we don't have on a ground sprayer, is actually that propeller wash. We're able to push a lot of that material in the canopy, especially when we're doing any fungicide or insecticide. We're seeing that it's a lot better coverage right under the propellers just because they are helping push a lot of the product down. But then right outside the propellers, it's doing this, like coming under and going up in the air, or it's like the coverage goes from, as an example, if right under the propeller we're getting a 30% coverage, as you go right outside it may be only 5%, and we don't know yet. It all depends on the product you're using or different things. What is a minimum threshold, right? Because a higher coverage is better, but if we're getting the same efficacy with the 10% coverage versus a 30%, it's still better. The thing still works, but we don't know those thresholds yet and that's why there's a lot of research and data that will need to be collected for the spray drones before we get too comfortable using them.
Morgan Seger (32:06):
Sure. That makes a lot of sense. Any suggestions if people have already gone that direction on what type of nozzle you saw the best spray pattern with?
Simer Virk (32:17):
So we did an XRAI, XR, and TTI, and the reason for those three are just standard TeeJet nozzles, but XR is one that creates medium droplets. The AIXR is what's right in the middle, which we called a coarser droplet nozzle. And then the TTI is also what we call a drift-reducing nozzle because it creates such large droplets. My suggestion would be depending on what you're spraying because some chemistries do need coverage, so you may want to go to AIXR because it doesn't have as many as fines an XR nozzle has. It will still give you the coverage, but it also helps reduce some of the drift that's associated with the finer droplet. And then if it's something that systemic, does not need a lot of coverage or anything, I think a TTI nozzle would work just as well because what we saw from a TTI nozzle was there was literally very minimal drift even when we had a drone up to 10 feet high from the ground.
Morgan Seger (33:28):
Okay, interesting. And more to come as we continue to do research, right?
Simer Virk (33:33):
And one thing I would definitely encourage some of us who are working in this space recently had a conversation, and I think one thing I would definitely suggest, whether you are a grower or consultant, is to make sure you do some sort of pattern testing before you start using your spray drone extensively. You don't need to go as close as what we did on some of the research stuff but make sure you're doing some sort of testing to know what the application and uniformity look like in some of your very common settings. Because what I've been hearing is most of the people who are either offering these services at the commercial drone application level or a grower doing it, they're sticking with those one or two settings that they use for everything. So just make sure that what the application looks like for that is accurate so that you can put a little bit more confidence in your application, or it may help you know that “Hey, you may not be doing a good job of applying something and you may need to change something.”
Morgan Seger (34:40):
Sure. So anything else when we are talking about spray technology in general that you think our audience should be thinking about?
Simer Virk (34:48):
I always say this, and that's why my work overlaps a lot, as I said earlier, with machinery systems and technology. We do a lot of standard nozzle-type work because it's a common thing that it does not matter how much technology you have on a sprayer, if you don't have the right nozzles or if you don't have the newer nozzles. If you haven't replaced your nozzles in a while and they're costing you, that's probably the cheapest thing on that sprayer that can make the most difference. So make sure we're paying attention to some of that smaller stuff. Now, I say that to say the nozzles are not cheap, but if you look at the other things on a sprayer, whether it's a technology or something else, it's still relatively a low-cost fix that you can address to make sure that we're making the most out of that sprayer.
Simer Virk (35:50):
And then again, I like to. For a lot of our growers, we go through the feeling that if we're not using anything, then we try to jump on the wagon because we are five or ten years late. But you should build upon where you started by using section control, rate control, or all that. Before you think about you not using anything and buying John Deere's newest See and Spray tomorrow – that's not going to fit very well in your operation because technology needs a lot of patience, right? And it needs years of patience for us to really get used to some of the newer technologies.
Morgan Seger (36:25):
I feel like you're speaking directly to me.
Simer Virk (36:29):
Well, even to myself because we've all been there.
Morgan Seger (36:33):
Sure. It's always enticing to jump to the newest thing. So just a quick circle back on when you said to pay attention to the nozzles because it is a lower-cost thing to fix. What types of things should growers be checking before they go into the fields next spring?
Simer Virk (36:50):
I think one easy thing to forget is when we're calibrating early on before the season. I know there are a lot of nozzles on that 90-foot boom but don't just check three or four nozzles. Let's make sure we're doing at least 30 to 50%. And one of the cool things that our extension agents love down here is I somehow accidentally come upon it. There's a small calibration tool called Spot On, so you don't have to do a manual check where you hold a jug under the nozzle and time it and all that. It's basically a small tool where you hit a button, put it under the nozzle, look at the flow rate, and it helps you do a lot more nozzles, plus it helps you check the uniformity across the boom. So that’s one of the big things is making sure that all the nozzles and everything's working pretty well because even if you have one bad nozzle on each section, and this is speaking from experience in the field, even if you have one bad nozzle, it's going to cause the pressure variation in your whole boom to affect your rate pretty comfortably.
Simer Virk (38:09):
A lot of times, I can read on my display that I need to have a 50 psi back there, and there's just one nozzle that's either clogged or there's a seal in it that's missing, and now we're reading 40, 44, and you are left wondering what's going on, and you're just trying to bump up the pressure more to just spray, and that's not addressing the problem but making it even worse.
Morgan Seger (38:33):
Sure, yeah. I didn't think about how it could impact the entire side of that boom. Awesome. Well, that's very helpful. One question that we always ask our guests is, what technology are you most excited about? And it could be in or outside of agriculture.
Simer Virk (38:48):
I want to go with, I know a lot of people say, probably automation and all that, but I think we're already starting to see some automation. But for me, I think it's what we call this artificial intelligence or some sort of computer or machine vision. And the reason I say that is because we're actually working with one of the companies, Farm Wave, and that's just one example because I think there are so many things we're not thinking about. And the reason I say that is because it was something new to me, I've been following them on Twitter, and we got in touch, and now we got a project going on in cotton.
Simer Virk (39:31):
They make a harvest loss system for combines. And I'm not sure if you have seen it yet or not, but it's basically cameras behind the combine that are constantly monitoring and scanning what's coming behind. And then, from there, they have machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms there that are detecting what percent or how much grain is still coming from behind the combine to estimate a harvest loss. To me, that was almost like a little bit of a different technology in ag that we don't pay a lot of attention to because we always put so much emphasis on planting, harvesting, fertilizer, all that, to make a crop. But if you really think about it today, how many technologies are really out there for harvest? Just one, yield monitoring or yield mapping. And we didn't tend to think beyond that, but I feel like they're like, "Oh wait a minute, the grower has already put a lot of money and effort into this crop so if there are any losses, he's leaving it behind. To me, that’s a very unique and good application that I didn't think about it.
Simer Virk (40:59):
So I think that's just one application, but now, if we think about it, the application of that AI in a lot of other things from planting until harvest, and that's what I want to see more in maybe the next five or ten years. I think we'll definitely see a lot more because we know weed laser reading, so that's another one where they're using AI to detect weeds, and these high-voltage lasers are just burning them to the ground. So I think we are going to see a lot more of this scope of technology out of the things we may not be aware of today.
Morgan Seger (41:38):
That's awesome. Well, so that's a new one for me, but it reminded me there was one trip I made down to Louisiana, and it was right after cotton harvest, and the whole time I was like, "Look at all that cotton on the ground." And they're like, "Well, compared to what we harvest, that's nothing." But being able to put a number to that, so that way up how to best calibrate your machine. That makes a ton of sense.
Simer Virk (42:01):
Yeah, so maybe someday you can have him on the podcast. The founder of Farm Way, Craig Gamble, actually lives in Georgia here, and what you exactly just said – I've been following the company for two years or so and they launched this product and we are actually towards the end of cotton harvest and I see so much cotton out there that I reached out to him and said, "Hey man, I want to know if we can do something in cotton because whether it's 3%, 5%, or 10%, just knowing will help a lot and there are definitely some fields out there that can really benefit from that."
Simer Virk (42:45):
We're actually collecting some data that’s coming back in a few more weeks about bringing it to other crops. So I'm excited about that.
Morgan Seger (42:56):
That's awesome. And to be fair to any cotton growers listening, I mean it's a little bit unfair you can't see all the corn we probably are leaving in the field where the cotton kind of sticks out, but those small incremental increases can make a big difference.
Simer Virk (43:09):
For sure. And they will also help pay for some of this, whether it's increased input cost or you may want to adopt a new technology on your farm. And if you think about 5% or 3%, let's just say 3% across the whole farm, depending on your farm size, can be a lot bigger number, not just one field if we add that up. And if we can do anything to reduce that amount, and I think that's the main goal. It's not that we're leaving a lot, but whatever we are leaving can be reduced even more so that we can put more grain in the cart or put more cotton in the picker.
Morgan Seger (43:54):
Awesome. Well, this has been so much fun. If someone wants to follow along with your work, where would you suggest they go?
Simer Virk (44:00):
I try to stay pretty active on Twitter about what we're working on. I love to learn about what other people are doing, wherever they are in the U.S. or elsewhere. So I'm on Twitter as PrecAgEngineer, and they can follow what we have going on there. If anybody has any interest in collaborating or you want to reach out about any other thing, feel free to send me a direct message or just give a follow, and I'll make sure to follow you back and see what cool things you got going on.
Morgan Seger (44:39):
That's awesome. We'll make sure we link out to it in our show notes as well.
Simer Virk (44:43):
Yeah, thank you.
Morgan Seger (44:44):
Thanks for tuning in to another episode of Precision Points. That conversation about spray technology was so fun and exciting for me. We recently bought a new 2S sprayer on our farm, so there was definitely a lot of note-taking going on in that conversation. Simer shares a lot of this information on his Twitter, and at the University of Georgia's precision ag technology blog, so I definitely encourage you to check those out. Like he mentioned, his Twitter handle is @precisionagengineer. It's P- R-E-C-A-G-E-N-G-I-N-E-E-R. And we will, of course, link out to this in our show notes as well that can be found at precisionagreviews.com. While you're there, be sure to check out our grower-sourced reviews. We collect reviews on real precision ag technology and mechanical systems that growers like you could be using. I know we're coming up to the end of the year here. Some of us have met with accountants, and we might be thinking now's a good time to make an upgrade. Before you do that, make sure you check out our reviews to get some real hands-on experience from growers like you. Let's grow together.
Thanks for tuning in to today's episode. To hear more podcasts like this, please rate, review and subscribe to Precision Points. Visit precisionagreviews.com for show notes from this episode and read expert advice on the blog. Share your experience with the precision ag products you use, and check out our network of farmer reviews. Let's grow together.