NAAA’s educational programming leads off with the Aerial Application Technology Research Session, led by aerial application researchers, possibly one of the convention’s most substantive sessions. This year’s session will cover several “new” tools and information ready to use as part of your everyday operations. Researchers have been working on most of these projects over the past several years and are eager to help make your applications more efficacious, make you an even better environmental steward and your application business more cutting-edge. Several states offer CEU credits for this session; be sure to sign in at the entranceway. Thank you to Dr. Dan Martin, USDA-ARS, for coordinating this session.

View a list of states offering CEUs for this session here.

2023 Presentations

Title: Impact of Nozzle Wear on Spray Performance
Author: Dr. Brad Fritz
Abstract: Spray nozzles play an essential role in precision application of crop protection and production products, with advancements focusing on optimizing nozzle design, orifice size, and spray pressure to achieve desired spray patterns and droplet sizes. These factors directly impact the efficacy of the applied products. Over time and with continuous use, nozzles undergo wear, leading to alterations in their shape, structure, and internal geometry, potentially affecting spray performance and precision. In this study, both new and worn nozzles from a range of types were tested to quantify the changes in flowrate, spray geometry, and droplet size due to wear. The findings offer valuable insights into the potential consequences of nozzle wear on precision spray applications and highlight the importance of proper nozzle maintenance and timely replacement. By understanding the implications of nozzle wear, agricultural professionals can adopt best practices to ensure consistent and effective spray applications, ultimately improving crop protection and production outcomes.
Bio: Dr. Brad Fritz is an agricultural engineer and serves as the Research Leader of the USDA ARS Aerial Application Technology Unit in College Station, Texas. His areas of research include spray drift measurement and methods of mitigation, understanding the role spray nozzles and formulations play in the droplet size being applied and optimizing aerial application technologies and methods to enhance on target deposition and reduce off-target impacts. He is an active member of a number of professional organizations including the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, the American Society of Testing and Materials, the American Mosquito Control Association, and the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

Title: Enhancing Aerial Application Efficiency: The Advantages of Pulse Width Modulation
Author: Adam Madison
Abstract: Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) technology in aerial spray operations enables precise control of spray droplet size, rate, and distribution, enhancing efficiency and effectiveness. It allows for targeted distribution of agrochemicals, improving coverage, mitigating drift, and reducing environmental impact. PWM systems enable optimized spray patterns and offer flexibility and adaptability, allowing operators to adjust spray parameters based on crop requirements and environmental conditions, ensuring uniform crop coverage.
Bio: Adam Madison is a Field Technical Specialist with 10 years of experience at Capstan Ag Systems, specializing in the SwathPRO spray system. His extensive knowledge and technical expertise have played a crucial role in implementing and optimizing the SwathPRO system for pilots, ensuring efficient and precise spraying operations.

Title: The Effect of Adjuvants and Spray Nozzles on Droplets Size
Author: Dr. Henrique Campos
Abstract: The adjuvant industry grows from the premise that its products can reduce the risk of pesticide spray drift. Polymer adjuvants have been used as anti-drift in general pesticide applications, however, few studies have been done to evaluate the effect of these products on the droplet size spectrum using rotary nozzles under aerial application conditions. The study was conducted in a high-speed wind tunnel.
Bio: Dr. Henrique Campos is an agronomist with a Masters and PhD in Pesticide Application Technology. He has researched adjuvants, spray nozzles and techniques for drift mitigation and has more than 10 years of experience with field and research trials as well as laboratory equipment. He is highly interested in all topics related to aerial application and sustainable agriculture.

Title: Creating Composite Images and Vegetation Index Maps from Sentinel-2 Satellite Imagery Using QGIS Software
Author: Dr. Chenghai Yang
Abstract: When discussing remote sensing images, you may have come across terms such as true color image, red-green-blue or RGB image, near-infrared or NIR image, color-infrared image, mid-infrared image, far-infrared image, thermal image, and more. These terms can be confusing for individuals who are not familiar with remote sensing. In this presentation, I will begin by providing a brief overview of different types of remote sensing images and clarifying the distinctions between these terms. Next, I will demonstrate a step-by-step procedure using the QGIS software to generate RGB and color-infrared images, the two most commonly used image types, from the individual band images extracted from a downloaded Sentinel-2 satellite scene. By following this procedure, you will learn how to create visually appealing composite images that showcase different aspects of the spectral features captured by the remote sensing sensor. Furthermore, I will illustrate the creation of a normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) map, which is a valuable tool for assessing crop growth and health conditions. This information can be used to make an informed decision about site-specific application of production and protection materials. Through this presentation, you will gain the necessary skills to generate RGB and color-infrared images, as well as NDVI maps, using QGIS. These techniques will enhance your understanding of remote sensing images and enable you to incorporate remote sensing imagery into your business for various applications.
Bio: Dr. Chenghai Yang is a Research Agricultural Engineer with the USDA-ARS Aerial Application Technology Research Unit in College Station, TX. Dr. Yang’s research focuses on the development and application of remote sensing technologies for precision agriculture and pest management. His recent efforts include developing low-cost imaging systems for manned and unmanned aircraft and comparing their effectiveness with satellite imagery for assessing crop conditions for site-specific applications of crop production and protection materials. Dr. Yang has authored or co-authored over 170 peer-reviewed journal articles. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and a member of several other national and international professional societies.

Title: Evaluation of Spray Drone, Airplane and Ground Sprayer in Simulated Corn Fungicide Application
Author: Dr. Steve Li
Abstract: Spray drones are being rapidly adopted in the United States as a popular alternative tool to apply pesticides on field crops, particularly fungicide over full size corn around tassel stage. However, research studies comparing the latest spray drone models to airplanes and ground sprayers are very rare. Therefore, field trials were conducted at multiple locations in 2022 and 2023 in AL and GA to compare spray drones to multiple airplanes and ground sprayers for deposition and canopy penetration. Aerial applications and ground sprayer used 2 and 15 GPA, respectively, to deliver same amount of spray dye per acre to corn plants. Results from 2022 field studies showed Agras T30 delivered similar dye concentration and uniformity on corn ear leaves compared to airplane and ground sprayer. Flying higher with narrower swath produced highest uniformity. 2023 results indicated Agras T30, T40 and T20P generated similar or higher dye concentration on ear leaves and inside corn canopy compared three airplanes. Canopy density and leaf orientation may have played a role in dye concentration. Droplet size from spray drone applications using 300 um setting were generally bigger than airplane’s droplet size. Drift reducing agent (DRA) and higher GPA increased deposition and spray dye concentration in some occasions but was not consistent across applications and study locations. Flying direction failed to affect deposition and spray dye concentration on ear leaves. More future field trials are still needed to evaluate spray deposition, canopy penetration and off-target movement as affected by application equipment, DRA, GPA, etc.
Bio: Dr. Steve Li is the extension weed scientist and associate professor of College of Agriculture, Auburn University. Dr. Li started his current position with Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University since February 2015 as extension specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences. He covered numerous areas for extension including row crops, specialty crops, pasture and hayfield, non-crop area, home ground, etc. He is the team leader of agronomic crop extension team. His research focuses on applied weed control in cotton-peanut rotation, application technology, pesticide drift and off-target movement, and utilizing drones to apply pesticides and implementing precision application.

Title: Value of the Agricultural Aerial Application Industry in the United States Delineated by Crops Grown and by State: A Counterfactual Study
Authors: Senarath Dharmasena, Dan Martin and Kaitlyn Hughes (presenting)
Abstract: Agricultural aerial application industry in the United States provides important services for American farmers. According to a 2019 National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) survey, the United States agricultural aviation industry treats about 127 million acres of cropland each year, which is approximately 28% of total commercially treated cropland. As an asset to American agriculture, it is important to determine how the state, regional, and national economies would be affected should such an industry become displaced. In this study, all U.S. states are evaluated based on the top five produced crops, measured by gross cash receipts. Data for 2019 provided by the NAAA and the USDA will be used to develop a counterfactual revenue reduction stochastic simulation model to estimate the value of the agricultural aerial application industry for each State’s economy, delineated by different crops and forestry products. The estimated simulation model will help understand the impact provided by U.S. agricultural aerial application industry on individual commodities and state economies. Preliminary analysis shows that the total revenue loss of not having agricultural aerial applications to United States. economy is about $37 billion (with probability of occurrence greater than 0.90). The results will aid decision making for applicators, regulators, and legislators.
Bio: Dr. Dharmasena is Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Associate of the Agribusiness, Food and Consumer Economics Research Center (AFCERC) at Texas A&M University. His current research interests are in the areas of Consumer Economics and Applied Demand Analysis, Agribusiness and Food Market Analysis, Behavioral Economics, Health and Nutrition Economics, Economics of Food Security, Food Environments and Obesity, Causality Modeling, Probability Forecasting and Forecast Evaluation, and Market Integration and Price Discovery. He is an expert in applied econometric modeling, both structural and time-series.

Title: Rain Enhancement with Commercial Agricultural Aircraft
Author: Dr. Dan Martin
Abstract: Some areas of the United States have recently experienced the worst drought in over a century. Water resources are tightening and aquifers are not being recharged as quickly as needed for an ever-growing population. Drought hits agriculture particularly hard with reduced crop yields and increased food prices. Several states have implemented rain enhancement or snowpack augmentation programs to help increase water supplies. Conventional technology used to increase rainfall includes the burning of silver iodide or calcium chloride flares near cloud bases. The smoke from these flares provides a nucleus for water vapor in the clouds to attach to and grow in size until large enough to precipitate out as rain. Although not supported by scientific data, some individuals are concerned about the resulting possibility of silver in the water supply. Research conducted by USDA’s Aerial Application Technology Research Unit in College Station, Texas has shown that releasing charged water droplets into the updraft of convective clouds via agricultural aircraft generates just as much, if not more, extra rainfall as conventional methods. This presentation will discuss the rain enhancement research conducted to date and opportunities for the future.
Bio: Dr. Dan Martin is a Research Agricultural Engineer with the USDA-ARS Aerial Application Technology Research Unit and has over 30 years of training and experience in aerial spray application technologies for precision agriculture. He has authored/coauthored over 50 journal articles and has given over 100 technical presentations at regional, national, and international forums. He has held various leadership positions in professional societies and is recognized as a leading authority in manned and unmanned aerial application systems for precision agriculture and pest management.