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Podcast episode 99: Orchard Technology

Podcast Episode 99: Orchard Technology

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The refreshing crisp of an apple. There’s nothing quite like it, right?

But before you take a bite of that Red Delicious or Granny smith, have you ever considered how this apple came to be? And how technology may have played a role?

Tune in to our latest episode – Ep. 99 – as Jason Kreps, Regional Sales Manager in the Northwest provides insight on the technologies currently being used in orchards across Washington and Oregon.

Read more: Vineyard Solutions You Need for the Full Season

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Check out past episodes and guests – visit the Episode Archive.

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Have a story idea or a precision ag topic we should highlight? Connect with us on social media: Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Twitter and connect with podcast host, Tony Kramer on Twitter at: @RDOTonyK.

Read the full transcript of Ep. 99:

Tony: Every day there are phenomenal advancements being made in the field of agriculture technology. RDO Equipment Company is a leader in agriculture equipment and precision agriculture technology and is here with industry experts bringing the latest news and information from RDO and John Deere. Thanks for joining us on the Agriculture Technology Podcast.

Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 99. Today we are going to be talking about orchard equipment and some of the technology that's being adopted in that industry. Before we dive into the show, please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast. If you haven't already, you can subscribe to the show on the many podcasting apps that we're streaming this out to. It's on Apple's podcasting app Stitcher, Overcast SoundCloud, as well as many others. While you're there, drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show.

Lastly, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on twitter@RDOTonyK. Now with that, let's get back to the show. I'm really excited to welcome back Jason Kreps. Jason, some of you may know, he was on an episode back actually three years ago. It's crazy to think how long we've been going with this podcast now. Back on episode 26, Jason was a guest on the show talking about the MyMaintenance app. If you haven't heard that one, go back and listen to that show.

It's of no correlation to what we're going to be talking to today. Jason is now a regional sales manager for RDO Equipment Co. out in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks for joining us on the show today, Jason. To get started, let's hear again a little more about you and your background and how you got to where you are today?

Jason Kreps: Yes, thanks Tony. Appreciate the opportunity to be back on the show. I've been with RDO Equipment Co, for just about 12 years now. Spent some time in our credit collections department and then last up until a year ago, spent time in about four or five years in our technology department working with JDLink and other other technologies to keep customers fleet connected to the cloud and to JDLink. About a year ago, I had the opportunity to try something a little different and came out to the Northwest as a sales manager to really spearhead our orchard and vineyard markets.

John Deere has a new tractor and some new products out specializing in that area. With my knowledge of technology and some of those other things and passion for the company, it was just a great opportunity and spent a great next step for myself.

Tony: All right. Let's dive into this show, Jason orchard equipment. I think about orchard equipment or harvest out in an orchard. I think maybe traditional going out with the basket and picking everything by hand. Now we don't have a whole lot of orchards here in the Red River Valley where I'm at. I know out in the Pacific Northwest and Washington state, you guys have a lot of orchards out there. Let's just talk start from the beginning, there really hasn't been much technology in the orchard industry. Why is that?

Jason: One of the things that I've really noticed and it's changed even a lot in the year that I've been here. Historically, the cost of technology was always probably a little higher than what some people want to pay. There's always enough people to get the job done. It was from what I've heard and people I've talked to, they're just okay doing things the way they've always done it, because it worked. It was proven. Some of the other reasons for the lack of technology that I've seen is the orchard blocks weren't always planted uniformly. There it's hard to mechanized anything or mechanized anything to really easily integrate technology into the orchard.

Tony: Is it safe to say that the orchard industry is a pretty, it's a specialty market? Maybe there hasn't been much focus just because of the size of the market?

Jason: That's definitely a fair assessment. It's one of those areas that out here, it's really taken off over the past 15 or so years. In Washington's now, one of the leading producers in apples and a few other specialty crops. Yes, there really hasn't been that big focus on the production and some of those cost saving measures, as there have been in other industries.

Tony: Over these past few years, where the orchard industry has really been growing and making changes, what are those changes? What is changing today that is increasing the integration of technology into the orchard industry?

Jason: One of the biggest things that I've noticed is how quickly new apple varieties are actually coming out. Historically, there was the Granny Smith and the Red Delicious and a couple of other apple types. Now there's 80 to 100 different apple varieties. A lot of producers are tearing out old orchards and planting new trees, planting the latest and greatest different apple varieties. The biggest benefit that has come from that is the ability for new plantings and for them to be planted uniformly using trellis and really training the trees to grow in a more efficient manner.

It's not just a tree that you would plant and just like you'd plant in your backyard and let it do its thing. These orchards, they're planning very, they're using GPS now to plant them in a picture perfect straight row. They're using trellising to hold the branches, where the producer grower wants them to be. They can easily be pruned and picked throughout the season. Just different adoptions in and how the orchard is planted is, I think really open the door for some more technology to come in.

Podcast episode 99 - orchard technology 

Tony: Is it also a factor of labor? Is adding technology like in large ag or traditional agriculture, adding some of this technology can help reduce some of the labor stress that we have out there? Is that also happening in the orchard industry?

Jason: Yes, labor's getting harder and harder to find. The two biggest costs that any producer will have are chemical costs and people. If we can help control and offer some solutions to help control and minimize both of those, we can really help that producer become more efficient and bring a little bit more to the bottom line.

Tony: Let's talk about what you guys are doing out there in Washington with the RDO stores out there. What are some of the technologies that you are promoting to integrate into the orchard equipment?

Jason: We had a couple things that we've started off with. We have and basically both are drive from technologies that we've traditionally used in our normal large eg, real crop sectors. We were partner with SureFire. They offer a Rate Controller that were able to put on customers existing orchard sprayer. It doesn't have to be the latest and greatest sprayer. We can retrofit it to almost any orchard sprayer, but what it will do is help reduce operator error by adding in some speed sensors. You can help better control the rate at which your spray is coming out.

Traditionally, an orchard would spray at a set mile per hour. They'd spray at say, two and a half miles per hour. Well, a lot of these orchards are planted on hills. It's not easy to hold two and a half miles an hour when you're going up or down a hill. There's always over under applying. By adding in this Rate Controller, you can go three and a half miles an hour or you can go two miles an hour and still apply the same rate. One of the other options that we have is basically taking the technology off our large gear sprayers and bringing in displays and receivers, where you can even take that Rate Controller to the next level.

We can add things like, valve shut off control where our section control where you can have it spray one side of the orchard and not the other. Where you can have it spray the left side of your row and not the right side of your row. You can help prevent overlap if you have two sprayers going in the same field. If they're going in the same field, they can share coverage maps. You can make sure that you don't go down the same road twice and it also shut off your sprayer at the end of each row. You're not spraying access at the end or at the beginning of a row.

Really, some cool ways to reduce some of that operator error. Then and then you can see all this in operation center. There's those historic maps of that data where you can go back and see, did we really apply as much as we thought we were going to where the weak spots within the orchard that maybe got missed and really takes that operation to the next level.

Tony: Really, you guys are not you're not reinventing the wheel by any means, you're utilizing or seeing the opportunity of taking technology that's been in traditional row crop or commodity crops and you're bringing it into the orchard industry.

Jason: Exactly. We're not reinventing a wheel and one of the things I was able to bring with my background is like, "Hey, the technology's there. We just got to figure out how to get it on these smaller orchard tractors and orchard sprayers." It's been great. Then John Deere’s now come along with a weatherproof display as well, for all the open station units. We have something that that's going to be a lot more weather proof and give that just a little bit more durability than a traditional display would.

Tony: Yes, that 40 to 40 John Deere display is a really cool display and it definitely has a fit on those open station tractors in the orchard and vineyard industry. What exactly is RDO doing to help promote this adoption of technology? I can't imagine it's easy. We talked at the beginning of the show about how traditionally there was no technology and orchard equipment, and it's really grown over the past couple of years. What are we doing as RDO Equipment Company to help promote this?

Jason: One of the things that's required of anybody that applies or is running a sprayer, is they have to get pesticide credits. One of the things we've done as we've held or hosted a couple of those events. What we'll do, is we usually partner with a local school that will teach the class. Then they'll go through their portion of the day, give everybody some lunch and then after that we'll talk about some of our tractors and technology for the orchard market. Help and try to girl grow some awareness that way.

Another great resource we have is we have a product specialist that is dedicated to the orchard and vineyard market. This individual, he the offers bilingual support, which is great. He knows the technology just inside and out. He's able to help ask questions to figure out where those pain points are and really get that company trained up, get all their operators trained up, everybody's comfortable with it. It's one of the scariest things with adopting technology is knowing how to use it. We feel that having a product specialist really gives us the upper hand, because we can really make a customer feel completely at ease with the product and then knowing that they have support after the purchase as well.

Tony: That product specialists that you're talking about, we were chatting before we started recording here. He's actually out doing a demo right now. Isn't that right?

Jason: Yes. He's out with a customer that's looking at a new John Deere 5075 GL orchard tractor . He's out with our account manager and making sure that that operator is up to speed and knows what's going on. It's awesome. Great to see. Then we also have a local agronomist and she covers the large AG side, but then the specialty crop as well. Being able to leverage and agronomist just to help talk about other things such as like global gap, some of the regulations that are coming into the orchard and these, the specialty crop market.

She's able to talk on that and she's able to help keep us up to speed and aware of changes and help know it's coming over the next few years. We can make sure that we're as knowledgeable as possible.

Tony: It's awesome to hear everything that RDO out in the northwest is doing to help promote this adoption of technology. I'm sure it's easy to get out there and do it, but it's awesome to hear that you guys are promoting it in many different ways. With the technology that you've got out there in some of these orchards or vineyards, there's got to be a success story with a customer that you could share with us here about, maybe some of the winds that are out there.

Podcast episode 99 - orchard technology

One of the first ones that we had, myself and the account manager we're talking with the customer. He was just really struggling with chemical costs and talking about how much money he spends every season on that. We started talking about rig controllers and what we can do there. He's like, "That's-- ", he's interested, peaked the interest. We set up a second meeting. Okay, we know enough to be dangerous, but let's get- let's hook you up with Jay, our product specialist. He can really take you through the nuts and bolts of what the system can do.

Eric and Jay, went back out to the customer and started talking about a couple different options of rate controllers and things we can do for him and his company in the orchard. He purchased the SureFire system and put that on one of his older sprayers and we're able to get that dialed in. Jay did some training with the owner and his team to make sure everybody was up to speed on everything.

Jay's made a couple a couple touch points throughout this season with the customer, making sure everything's still working properly and he's getting good use out of the data that he's able to get off of that rate controller. Jay's helping the customer put together some good data points, they can potentially invest in several more of these to outfit all of their sprayers at the end of the season. Really, really cool to see lots really good feedback from him so far and the SureFire system it's very easy to use. Like I said, having the support of Jay, if something does go wrong, we got somebody right there that can take care of them.

Tony: If someone is interested in learning more about some of this technology that's being adopted or some of the stuff that you guys are doing out there in Washington State, who can they talk to? Where can they go to learn more?

Jason: One thing we're working on, is as we get more and more into this market, is producing some content. We do have a couple of different YouTube videos out there right now on our RDO Equipment Company page. Talking about sprayers and some of the different technology and rate controllers. You can follow me on Twitter @RDOjasonk or contact one of your one of your local Washington or Oregon ROD Equipment Company stores and ask for your product specialist and we'll get it taken care of.

Tony: Awesome. I just want to thank you Jason, for taking the time again to sit down and chat with me about some orchard equipment. It's really neat to see what you guys are doing in the equipment or the technology that you're utilizing to better the orchard industry.

Jason: It's been a lot of fun. I appreciate it and can't wait to share some more success stories with you and where we take this.