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Precision Agriculture Technology at Faculty of Agriculture to directly benefit the Blueberry Industry
by Emma Geldart
Despite tough times recently faced in the wild blueberry industry, it seems there is a glimmer of hope for wild blueberry producers.
Through a new program funded partially by the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture, wild blueberry producers in Nova Scotia can now apply for funding assistance to help to improve the efficiency of their wild blueberry harvesters.
“As we know, the wild blueberry industry has been facing serious financial crisis,” explains Dr. Qamar Zaman, head of the Precision Agriculture team at Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture.
“Fruit prices are very low and cost of production is high. Harvesting costs are very high, nearly 49.5 per cent of the total cost of production,” adds Dr. Travis Esau, also a member of the Precision Agriculture team at Dalhousie.
The Wild Blueberry Harvester Efficiency Program will help producers to offset the high costs of harvesting their berries. With the additional funding, producers will be able to adopt new harvester technology to help increase their harvest and field handling efficiency. As a result, wild blueberry producers could see an increase in berry yield and quality. The support provided by this program will also allow growers to increase their competitive advantage.
“A program like this is very important to our industry at this time,” Dr. Zaman explains. “The program will allow producers to upgrade their wild blueberry harvesters, which will increase farm profitability and assist with the stabilization of industry over time.”
The significant achievements of the Precision Agriculture Research Team are what ultimately led to the implementation of the Wild Blueberry Harvester Efficiency Program. Precision Agriculture looks at many variables in farming practices that make farming more efficient, accurate, controlled and profitable when it comes to growing and cultivating crops.
Through this research, Dr. Zaman and his team of researchers have come up with new technologies to help improve and maintain the wild blueberry industry. They have about eight projects, either completed or in progress but their most notable technology is the automated prototype variable rate sprayer for spot application of agrochemicals.
Traditionally, growers apply agrochemicals uniformly without considering bare spots, weed patches and the substantial variability in soil and crop characteristics that exist within fields. These uniform applications of chemicals results in either over or under-application.
“Newly developed fields have 20-50 per cent bare patches,” Dr. Zaman says. “There is no need to fertilize or spray there because if you apply chemicals, you will increase costs.”
The PA team’s most recent project, “Improving efficiency of commercial wild blueberry harvester using precision agriculture technologies” was completed in September 2017. The project saw monumental success, noting Precision Ag technologies improved harvester efficiency, increased berry yield and quality reduced cost of production.
Based on this success of the precision agriculture research, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia launched the Wild Blueberry Harvester Efficiency Program under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $3-billion investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments that aims to strengthen the agriculture and agri-food sector and ensure continued innovation, growth and prosperity.
Each applicant may be eligible for 75 per cent funding assistance under Canadian Agricultural Partnership to a maximum of $20,000 per harvester. It allows farmers, machinery manufacturers and processors at all levels, ranging from small family-run operations to large agri-businesses, to achieve significant improvements in farming efficiency.
“The funding provided to the wild blueberry producers enables them to upgrade their harvesters equipped with precision harvesting technologies,” Dr. Zaman says. “Such improved technologies will gradually change the basic patterns of production and consumption and enable humankind’s transition to a new and more harmonious approach to economic, environmental and social development.”
Application forms and complete program guidelines can be found at, https://novascotia.ca/programs/wild-blueberry-harvest-efficiency/.
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