Northwest Nazarene University’s Department of Engineering received a $90,400 grant from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) to develop Fruit Count App (FCA), a fruit crop yield estimation system. This is the third ISDA specialty crop grant awarded to the engineering department within the last three years.
As stated in the FCA proposal for the grant, “Accurate fruit yield estimate will impact growers’ decisions about orchard management like planning thinning and harvesting operation, as well as managing packing shed logistics. In addition, fruit crop yield estimates could help the farmer discuss supply capacity with buyers, which could affect selling price by as much as 15%.”
Led by mechanical engineering professors Dr. Duke Bulanon and Dr. John Stutz, an NNU engineering team will develop a vision system to capture images of fruit trees and a computer program that will estimate fruit yield from the image. The FCA will be composed of a certain combination of a color camera, multispectral camera, and stereo camera and is designed to be mounted on a tractor or an autonomous vehicle.
This year ISDA’s specialty crop block grant program has awarded $1.9 million to 15 specialty crop projects—the Fruit Count App included. The grants are paid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Farm Bill.
NNU’s Department of Engineering has two other ongoing ISDA specialty crop grant projects: orchard-monitoring drones and IdaBOT. ISDA awarded an NNU engineering team a $70,000 grant to develop orchard-monitoring drones in 2014 and in 2015 an $81,000 grant to develop the IdaBOT, an autonomous robot that can perform time-intensive farm tasks.
“There is so much agriculture in Idaho that it is a natural fit to pursue some of this,” commented Dr. Josh Griffin, NNU electrical engineering professor and IdaBOT project leader. “We believe it is a good niche for us.”