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An Agriculture Department researcher has designed a system for determining the accuracy of aerial pesticide application.

Growers now place water-sensitive cards throughout their fields prior to spraying. After the aerial applicator, known as a crop duster in the old days, delivers the pesticide to the crops, the cards are collected for a spray deposit analysis.Basically, this means the farmers manually count and measure the spots left on the cards, a long process that can take up to an hour per card.

The new system enhances this method, using video and computer technology, according to Agricultural Research magazine.

Eric Franz, an agricultural engineer for USDA's Agricultural Research Service, designed the system, called image analysis, which uses a video camera and a computer to do the manual labor.

After the field is sprayed, the cards are scanned by the video camera, feeding the data directly into the computer where it is converted into digital information. The computer then provides all the pertinent statistics, including area of spray coverage, number of spots per unit area and droplet size.

Studies have shown that merely spraying is not enough to eradicate targeted pests; the spraying must be done right.

Agricultural Research Service scientist Ivan Kirk determined that different size droplets affect insects differently, even pinpointing the exact size needed to control a variety of pests. Such research, used in conjunction with Franz's system, will help growers waste less pesticide.

At the moment, however, the image analysis system has only been used as a research tool. Other researchers are currently working on a portable system with a hand-held scanner for use in the fields, picking up where Franz left off. Franz died in February 1994.