The Apple Industry — In a Nutshell
Next to grapes, apples are reported to be the second leading fruit in the US based on production volume and are the number one consumed fruit in the US. Data from the US Apple Association estimates that the 26,000+ apple producers, which span all 50 states, produce over 11 billion pounds of apples annually. With around 382,000 acres of land dedicated to apple farms, it should serve as no surprise that farmers face quite the task of managing problematic pests in this $23 billion industry. With apple season amongst us, we’ve decided to take a deep dive into some of the pest-related headaches apple farmers — including the dreaded codling moth — can face and explore ways in which artificial intelligence and machine learning technology can revolutionize your orchard’s pest management capabilities.
Codling Moths vs. Apple Farmers — A War as Old as Time
As you sort through the endless varieties of apples at your local grocery store, you probably aren’t thinking about the challenges that apple farmers face throughout the growing season. On the other hand, if you’re an apple farmer, these same challenges likely keep you awake at night as you try not to think about the numerous threats to your apple trees. As with nearly all farmed goods, when it comes to the primary concerns, pests are typically a top contender — and apples are no different.
For apple farmers, the number one pest of concern is the codling moth (Cydia pomonella). This pest has a voracious appetite for apples. In their larval stage they bore their way inside the fruit which almost always leads to the spoilage of each affected apple. Although this may not seem like a major concern given the millions of apples produced each year, we must consider the population size of codling moths.
Without intervention, the population of a codling moth brood can quadruple from generation to generation. In some areas with favorable breeding conditions, codling moths can even undergo two breeding cycles per season, which means a single infestation can experience an eight-fold growth within one apple season. According to CropTracker.com, a codling moth infestation that is left uncontrolled can result in up to 90% of an apple harvest being damaged.
The codling moth is not a new problem for apple farmers. Although it originated in Asia, according to Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, this insect has been the primary pest of concern for North American apple and pear farmers for over 200 years. In fact, it was not until the advent of synthetic organic insecticides in the 1940’s that apple farmers were able to manage control of codling moths.
If We Have Pesticides That Work, Then What’s the Problem?
This logic often resonates with farmers and non-farmers alike, especially with the availability of broad-spectrum pesticides. That said, there are a few hurdles to what may otherwise seem like an obvious solution.
Resistance – Similar to some bacteria developing antibiotic resistance after prolonged or repeated exposure, insects can also develop resistance to pesticides. This typically leads to the thought of why not just develop a new pesticide when needed but given the rate at which some pests can develop resistance, this isn’t a feasible, responsible, or sustainable solution. Additionally, the frequent development of new pesticides leaves minimal time for researchers to study the potential environmental impact of new pesticides. Even if we were not concerned with the potential short and long-term environmental impact of new pesticides, farmers would almost certainly face a premium price point to implement a new chemical and with the potential for resistance development, this could easily become a seasonal chore that simply put, isn’t logical for any farmer interested in the longevity of their operation, amongst other concerns. Furthermore, rapid synthetic pesticide development is becoming an unsustainable process for manufacturers given the significant amount of time and investment required by development teams.
Environmental Impact – Conservationists, environmentalists, and sustainability experts have long sounded the alarm around the potentially negative environmental impact repeated pesticide use. Farmers must consider where their pesticide run-off and wasted product ends up — frequently seeping into soil and water where it can ultimately leech into the surrounding ecosystem. Some chemicals used in pesticides like perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) can also linger for generations before breaking down. These concerns can be further amplified for farmers using new synthetics given the lack of long-term impact data at our disposal.
Increased Operating Expense – As with most things, the newest and most cutting-edge pesticides will most likely come at a premium price point. Additionally, farmers may also incur added expenses if they are required to implement new application equipment and/or application training before they begin using new pesticides.
Sustainability – The common denominator of these concerns is that they lack any degree of sustainability and environmental responsibility. Many researchers and conservationists agree that creating new pesticides on-demand as a means of pest management isn’t remotely sustainable for farmers, the commercial agriculture industry, or the environment.
How Can Apple Farmers Use New Insect Monitoring Tech to Fight Pests?
Since their introduction into planned cultivation nearly 8,000 years ago, apples have been threatened by the codling moth and a bevy of other pests. Modern tactics often rely on routine broad-spectrum pesticide application, but as discussed, this method lacks long-term sustainability for a multitude of reasons. You may find yourself asking, instead of regularly applying pesticides, why don’t we apply them only when we know there’s a pest presence? Great concept, but the problem with this is that until recently, traditional sticky traps that are used to loosely monitor for pest presence, are not capable of providing accurate, timely, or actionable information. This is due largely in part to the lag in time between hired labor manually checking and documenting numerous sticky traps and reporting back to the farmer. Essentially, by the time a farmer learns that a specific pest was spotted on a sticky trap, there’s a good chance that the targeted pest has already infiltrated the area, hence routine preventative broad-spectrum pesticide applications that we see so regularly these days.
That said, ag-tech startup, FarmSense, has created a solution to this long-standing problem by developing an award-winning insect monitoring system that gives farmers real-time visibility to pest pressure in their fields. This revolutionary device, the FlightSensor, utilizes a proprietary optical detection sensor and the world’s largest database of digitized insect data to monitor for and identify pests in real-time with near perfect accuracy. Using wingbeat patterns, additional physiological signals, and FarmSense’s patented algorithm, the FlightSensor counts and classifies insects in real-time then wirelessly transmits the information to a digital dashboard on the farmer’s computer or mobile device.
This real-time pest monitoring system removes much of the guesswork for farmers which can ultimately translate to a reduction in both pesticide use and crop loss. This is accomplished by arming farmers with actionable information around when and where pests are present in the fields. In many cases, this gives farmers the ability to apply pesticides in a targeted manner or a specific window of time as opposed to regular broad-spectrum applications across the entire grow operation. In addition to pest metrics, FarmSense’s FlightSensor can also report real-time climatological conditions, granting farmers the ability to better prepare for and mitigation of fungal or bacterial growth.
Contact FarmSense for more information on the FlightSensor or to discuss a demo in your own fields.