By Amanda Garris
Dr. Andrew Landers joined the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in Ithaca in 1998. He subsequently moved to the Department of Entomology at the NYSAES in Geneva in 2001. A senior extension associate with teaching, research and extension responsibilities, he leads the Pesticide Application Technology Team. Dr. Landers brings his expertise in engineering to bear on the challenge of safe and effective pesticide applications in vineyards.
How did you become interested in pesticide application technology and agricultural engineering?
My original interest and first degree was in agriculture, but I quickly saw the exciting challenges that engineering can offer, leading me to study agricultural engineering, specializing in farm mechanization. The mechanization of farms throughout the world offers great potential as it reduces drudgery, can help growers improve productivity, and offers great research and development potential. For twenty years, I taught agricultural students in England, where there was both increasing interest in and government legislation regarding application technology to protect the environment and reduce operator contamination. Subsequent public scares regarding food safety led me to believe that my skills could be put to good use in developing more effective crop sprayers.
I had visited the Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department at Ithaca on two previous occasions, whilst conducting research for Her Majesty's Government and as a visiting Churchill Fellow. When my current position was advertised, I saw it as a great opportunity to come to a former colony and experience a new culture and face the challenge of new life experiences, both personal and professional—I would recommend such a move to all my colleagues.
In what ways has research in your field changed since the beginning of your career?
In my early career, farmers were riding on a boom of producing food for a nation that could remember the shortages and depravation of the SecondWorld War. The U.K. then joined the European Economic Community (EEC) and was reaping the newfound benefits of membership, including plenty of money for research activities. I continue to see funding move from production-orientated research to a thrust for environmental concerns.
In the mid to late 90's, the Blair government came to power in the U.K. and systematically started taking apart the farming structure and countryside movement. Funds started to dry up, research institutions closed, and education was reduced to the lowest common denominator—time to move to the Ivy League!
Grower-funded research supported by the government is the way of U.S. fruit research, rather than having to convince some Whitehall mandarin of the relative merits and worthiness of a research proposal.
What projects are going on in your program right now?
Our research projects cover two main thrusts: to improve existing spraying equipment and to develop novel application techniques.
Improving existing techniques via controlling spray drift and therefore improving deposition has resulted in savings in pesticide use for the grower in the region of 30-35%. This results in less pesticide on food, which must be a good thing for the consumer and is of economic benefit to the grower. Many growers choose not to spend their money on new sprayers, so we have developed quite a program in developing inexpensive retrofits for existing sprayers. Examples include the ubiquitous Cornell doughnuts, deflectors, vertical patternators, and the recently patented adjustable air louvre.
In the novel techniques arena, we are currently working on flow recording using GPS and GIS to detail where spray has been applied, as this helps with both farm management and traceability. We are also studying devices to adjust both liquid and air flow in real time using sensors to detect both canopy density and volume.
How does your research benefit the grape industry?
We have improved the traditional sprayer to make it more efficient and therefore provide growers with the ability to make better use of their pesticides. By minimizing drift we can improve water quality, reduce complaints from neighbors, and reduce operator contamination.
We have shown growers many novel systems, shown them they work (or not!), and increased their knowledge of what is available in the marketplace. I am lucky that I have a 60% extension position—I am able to cascade our applied research directly to the growers. I make around 45 presentations each year to growers all over the world.
What was the best piece of research advice you have ever received?
The best piece of research advice I received was to make the research project relevant, exciting and, above all, applicable to the growers who are funding you. So often in agricultural engineering, research has been conducted for research's sake and then languishes in academic journals without seeing the light of day. Our program at Cornell University has been successful, as grape growers and others have kindly supported us financially. The work has been very applied, and I hope we have made it interesting and exciting!