Washington State University (WSU) is partnering with Digital Harvest Corp. to test an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that could provide a safer, less expensive means to blow rainwater off cherry orchards to avoid fruit losses.
According to WSU, rain can cause splits in the skin of cherries and similar fruits – rendering them susceptible to premature decay and, thus, making them commercially unmarketable. Growers use hovering helicopters to dry off cherry crops after a rainstorm, but that is costly and can be dangerous, the university says.
WSU will spend the next few months testing the Yamaha RMAX UAV – an unmanned, 11-foot helicopter – as an alternative. If the trials are successful, the device will be tested in the field specifically for removing water from tree canopies to prevent fruit cracking.
The research is funded through the Emerging Research Issues grants program of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. Yahama and Digital Harvest both hold Section 333 exemptions from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Developed in Japan, where there are approximately 2,500 in operation, the RMAX has been used for spraying rice crops since 1997, says WSU. The aircraft weighs 141 pounds and has a load capacity of up to 61 pounds.
Lav Khot, assistant professor of biological systems engineering at WSU’s Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems in Prosser, hopes to also research the effectiveness of the RMAX for targeted spray and chemical dispersal applications.
“In Japan, it is common for family farms to pool resources to utilize the RMAX to spray their fields. We could foresee the same partnering with farms in the Pacific Northwest,” he explains. “We are excited to get the data sets back and work with Digital Harvest and Yamaha on the next phase of testing.”
A flight demonstration video from WSU can be found here.