Protecting Your Apples and Almonds
Apple and Almond crops are more than just staple food items. For many, they’re a way of life and a livelihood. With most apple and almond crops being grown outdoors, understanding the potential impact and risk that pests, weather, and disease can present has become a vital aspect of running a successful grow operation, regardless of if you’re a hobby sized grower or a multinational commercial agricultural operation.
The Impact of Almonds — In a Nutshell
According to the Escalon Times, California maintains 80% of the global almond production thanks to the 1.5 million acres in the Great Central Valley region dedicated to commercial almond operations. Consider this, the entire country of Spain is the world’s second largest almond producing country with over 202,000 tons of almonds harvested annually — to put this into perspective, the state of California produces over two billion tons of almonds annually .
These figures alone should make anyone recognize how important the sustainability of almond agriculture is to the state of California and the farming operations behind them. Commercial almond agriculture generates tens of thousands of employment opportunities in addition to thousands of ancillary jobs as well, like the services responsible for bringing in 1.6 million colonies of pollinating honey bees each bloom period .
Inside the Apple Industry — Doing More Than Keeping the Doctor Away
As reported by the US Apple Association, apples are the most consumed fruit in the US . With over 5,000 apple production operations spread across 32 states, it should come as no surprise why apples have become such a significant part of not only our diets, but our culture as well. From bringing your teacher an apple to eating an apple a day, to keep the doctor away, this versatile fruit has become a cultural icon across generations. Based on the estimated $1 billion in average annual apple crop exports  and over 100 varieties grown , apples are a staple food item that is poised to continue flourishing.
Understanding the Challenges Faced by Apple and Almond Growers
In a perfect world, a farmer could simply maintain their plants and produce a bountiful harvest each season with no unexpected — or expected — hurdles to clear. Unfortunately, nature doesn’t present a situation that condones this ideal.
Pests tend to be the primary concern for the majority of apple and almond growers, as insects seem to be as fond of these crops as we humans are. Each year, pests are responsible for apple and almond crop losses valued well into hundreds of millions of dollars. As demand for both apples and almonds continue to climb, as does the average size of their respective grow operations. The average size of an apple orchard in the US is 50 acres  and the average size of almond farms in the US was 235.5 acres . With grow ops this size, protecting your crops from insect invasions can quickly become a frustrating and oftentimes, losing battle.
If you’ve worked with apples, you probably understand the sense of panic that is sent through any grower within earshot at just the mere mention of the dreaded codling moth (Cydia pomonella). This moth, as reported by the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, “has been the principal pest of apples and pears in North America for more than 200 years” . Codling moth larva burrow deep into the fruit, feeding on seeds, and ultimately rendering the fruit unmarketable.
In the world of almonds, the Navel Orangeworm (Amyelois transitella) is the pest responsible for keeping almond growers awake at night. According to the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, the navel orangeworm first-instar larvae “bores into the nutmeat, and later instars can consume most of the nut” . Additionally, the damage caused by the navel orangeworm can result in conditions prime for fungal growth.
In addition to the threat of pests, apple and almond farmers must be persistent in monitoring for disease — which can be systemic or vectored by insects, ensure that soil conditions are optimal, and plan certain agricultural activities based on the ever-changing weather. Being a successful almond or apple farmer is a daunting task to undertake.
Managing These Pests
Most sources will state that manually monitoring your fields frequently — sometimes multiple times a week — is the best way to get ahead of not only navel orangeworm or codling moth invasions, but just about any pest invasion or disease outbreak. That said, recall earlier when we mentioned that the average apple grow is around 50 acres and the average almond grow being over 230 acres? This should quickly paint a picture that, unless you have several teams whose only job is to manually scour the fields for signs of pests, manual monitoring is nearly impossible, at least for larger operations.
Of course, there are chemical controls that can be implemented to help mitigate pests, but these come at a cost. Many of the pesticides that are effective against primary pests of apple and almond farmers are unfortunately also effective against both pollinators of these crops as well as natural enemies of harmful pests. Additionally, chemical controls aren’t typically cheap and can cut into your profit margin by the end of the season.
Farmers have developed some other pest-prevention tricks, like destroying “mummy nuts”, which are leftover almonds that remained on the plant after the harvest season. These mummy nuts are sought after by navel orangeworms and other almond pests. Although the removal of these leftovers has shown to mitigate some pest issues, it can become a timely, labor-intensive, and in some situations, costly practice.
The Next Generation of Insect Monitoring
We live in an age where data is invaluable, the world of apple and almond agriculture included. Imagine having access to real-time data that paints a picture of your farm’s ecosystem. While this may sound like a dream come true, for many farmers, it is quickly becoming a reality.
FarmSense, an ag-tech startup founded by Drs. Keogh, Singh, and Hickle, is on the path to roll out their Smart Pest Monitoring System to farmers across the nation. Their award-winning insect monitoring system uses a patented optical detection sensor to automate the process of real-time insect classification and counting. The Smart Trap first detects an insect and then, by running FarmSense’s patented algorithm, classifies the insect in real-time, the data is then wirelessly transmitted to the farmer’s digital dashboard.
This innovative approach to pest monitoring is permitting farmers to take much of the guesswork out of insect detection and monitoring. In addition to classifying, insects are also counted, traps are synced across your fields, and data can be easily shared with others. Aggregate data collected by the Smart Traps in your field is also used to create both timelines and heatmaps showing when and where in your fields that the insect pressure is highest. If you’re the “set it and forget it” type, FarmSense allows you to set pest pressure notifications and thresholds for any block or trap within your grow. This results in less time spent worrying about what may be out there eating away at your plants and profits — literally.
This type of next generation insect monitoring is set to revolutionize not only agriculture from the farmer’s point of view but could lead to cleaner crops for consumers. Having insight before pest invasions become out of control can translate to a reduced need for insecticide use.
Not only can FarmSense Smart Traps monitor and classify pests, but they also report vital meteorological conditions to farmers in real-time. Just as important as monitoring insect populations and movement, farmers must give equal attention to climate conditions like humidity, which can increase the potential for fungal or bacterial growth as well as potentiate the possibility for disease proliferation.
Think FarmSense Smart Traps and Monitoring System is a Good Fit for Your Grow?
…Many other farmers think so as well! FarmSense is rapidly garnering international attention in the agricultural and tech industries. Having received numerous awards like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Award, the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Award, and the National Science Foundation Award, FarmSense is set to change agricultural pest monitoring entirely. More information and demo requests can be scheduled by contacting FarmSense.