It was late at night and snowing when Jim and I arrived in Rochester, New York, and the air was a balmy 28°F (or -2°C). Fortunately the pineapple themed Airbnb that we had rented was nice and warm!

We had flown out to Rochester at the end of March to meet with Outfield users and research partners in New York, the second largest apple growing state in the union. Rochester sits in the middle of the Lake Ontario fruit growing region, so it was the perfect base for us for our two week visit.

One of the main reasons for visiting New York was to launch our collaboration with Cornell University. Building on successful projects together in 2023, Outfield is partnering with the Digital Agriculture team at the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, based in Geneva, NY. We are really excited to work with Professor Terence Robinson and Associate Research Professor Yu Jiang to demo the Outfield system on New York orchards, in particular using Outfield for precision crop load management (PCLM).

This season, Cornell will be helping Outfield test individual tree level orchard maps to enable precision spraying and management of tree level variability. That was the theme of the open day we ran at Cornell’s Research South farm site on March 28, where growers got to review Outfield data outputs and have a go at flying a drone for themselves. We also discussed collaborations with research groups at Cornell looking at apple tree decline and vineyard management.

Luckily for us, the weather warmed up after a few days, and we were able to demonstrate the Outfield system to a wide range of growers across the state. Over in eastern New York, Dan Donahue from the Cornell Hudson Valley Extension Team introduced us to several local apple and peach growers, thank you Dan!

We signed one new contract while we were in the state, and very excitingly we also set up trials with two different precision spraying platforms for the 2024 season. Stay tuned for more information on those trials later in the year!

Both Jim and I are very grateful to Rod Farrow from Fish Creek Farms for his support during our trip. Rod kindly gave us a lot of his time to talk about the trends and challenges affecting the fruit industry in New York, and also gave us a tour of some of the high density orchards that he manages along the shore of Lake Ontario. Rod is spearheading the precision spray trials with Outfield in New York, and it’s a technology he is keen for the industry to adopt. 

Speaking to growers across the state, there are big concerns in the industry about oversupply of fruit in the market forcing down prices. Many New York growers are responding to this by focusing on quality, especially with high quality Honeycrisp which grows exceptionally well in New York. There are also worries about rising labour costs in the state, and a big interest in adopting precision technologies to help with cost reduction and better homogeneity of trees.

It wasn’t all meetings and system demos though. Some particular highlights of the trip were watching a lacrosse game at Blue Cross Stadium in Rochester and a visit to the spectacular Letchworth State Park. We also tried many of the food options that Rochester has to offer:  fantastic Ethiopian food, huge sub sandwiches, a candlelit Italian meal at Rocco’s and some really great barbecue at Dinosaur BBQ. One meal we did avoid though was the Rochester Garbage Plate.

We are really pleased to be supporting growers in New York with yield estimates and crop monitoring, and I am so excited to see what our collaboration with Cornell will unlock over this season. We will be back in upstate New York later in the year, get in touch if you would like to connect with us while we are there!

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