Assessing Spray Deposition and Weed Control Efficacy from Aerial and Ground Equipment in Managed Turfgrass Systems


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Virginia Tech


There is a growing interest in agricultural spray drone (ASD) use for herbicide application in managed turfgrass systems, which historically has precluded aerial application. Considering pesticide deposition accuracy is of utmost importance in managed turfgrass systems, a thorough examination of factors that influence ASD spray deposition patterns is needed. A python-based spray deposition pattern analysis tool, SprayDAT, was developed to estimate spray quality utilizing a cost-effective continuous sampling technique involving digital soand spectrophotometric analysis of blue colorant stains on white Kraft paper. This technique cost 0.2 cents per USD spent on traditional water-sensitive paper (WSP) allowing for continuous sampling necessary for the highly variable deposition patterns delivered by an ASD. SprayDAT conserved droplet densities and more accurately detected stain objects compared to a commonly utilized software, DepositScan, which overestimated stain sizes. However, droplet density exhibited an upper asymptote at 22% stain cover when relating volume median diameter (VMD) due to increasing overlap of stain objects. Spread factor of blue colorant stains was fit to a 2-parameter power equation when compared across six discrete droplet sizes between 112 and 315 µm when droplets were captured in a biphasic solution of polydimethylsiloxane of 100 cSt over 12,500 cSt viscosities. Cumulative digitally assessed stain objects underestimated application volume 270% when compared to the predicted output based on flow rate, coverage, and speed. SprayDAT incorporates a standard curve based on colorant extraction and spectrophotometric analysis to correct this error such that total stain area accurately estimates application volume to within 9%. This relationship between extracted colorant and total stain area, however, is dependent on droplet size spectra. SprayDAT allows users to customize standard curves to address this issue. Using these analysis techniques, continuous sampling of a 29.3-m transect perpendicular to an ASD or ground sprayer spray swath resolved that increasing ASD operational height increases drift and effective swath width while effective application rate, total deposition, and smooth crabgrass control by quinclorac herbicide decreases. Deposition under the ASD was heterogeneous as the coefficient of variation (CV) within the targeted swath exceeded 30% regardless of operational height. At higher operational heights, relative uniformity of spray pattern was improved but droplet density at 11.7 m away from the intended swath edge was up to four times greater and total spray deposited was up to 60% reduced at the highest heights. For each 1-m increase in ASD operational height, 6% of the deposited spray solution, 11% of the effective application rate within the targeted swath, and 7% of smooth crabgrass [Digitaria ischaemum (Schreb.) Schreb. ex Muhl.] population reduction declined. Subsequent studies suggested that total deposition loss with increasing operational height of ASD were likely due to droplet evaporation. Discrete-sized droplets subjected to a 5-m fall in a windless environment exhibited a sigmoidal relationship where 98% volume of 135-µm droplets and approximately 67% volume of 177 – 283 µm diameter droplets evaporated. Addition of drift reduction agents (DRAs) or choosing different nozzle types altered the initial droplet density generated by a flat-fan nozzle. Regardless of DRA additions or nozzle replacement, the distance required to lose 50% of small droplets (< 150 µm diameter) was 6.6 m. Air induction nozzles and DRA admixtures also conserved smooth crabgrass control across 2- and 6-m operational heights, where control was reduced at the 6-m height with a flat fan nozzle without DRA. Spray deposition pattern analysis for multipass ASD and ground applications was conducted by utilizing nighttime UV-fluorescence aerial photography and weed infestation counts in a digitally overlaid grid. Results show that under-application across all devices was consistent and averaged 12%, whereas at least 14% more over-application on the targeted area was observed for ASD, regardless of equipped nozzle types, compared to a ride-on sprayer. Drift also occurred at least 3 times more for ASD application than for a ride-on sprayer and a spray gun sprayer. Using smooth crabgrass infestation annotated from aerial images could not consistently resolve the spatial variability evident in UV-fluorescent imagery presumably due to the innate variability in weed populations. Analysis using SprayDAT revealed insights into factors affecting ASD spray deposition, such as operational height impacting drift, effective swath width, and herbicide efficacy, highlighting the tool's utility in optimizing aerial herbicide applications in turfgrass management. Data suggest that the lowest ASD operational height should be employed to partially mitigate drift and droplet evaporation while improving weed control. Lower operational heights, however, reduce effective swath width and increase heterogeneity of the deposition pattern. Future research should evaluate possible engineering controls for these problems.



Agricultural spray drone, deposition pattern, image analysis, weed control