Bikram Adhikari, Manoj Karkee, Qi Wang, Matt Whiting, Qin Zhang
Pruning is a labor intensive operation that constitutes a significant component of total apple production cost. As growers are adapting simpler, narrower, more accessible and productive (SNAP) tree architectures such as the tall spindle fruiting wall system, new opportunities have emerged to reduce pruning cost and labor through automated pruning. This work focused on identification of pruning branches on apple trees in a tall spindle architecture. A time-of-flight-of-light-based three dimensional (ToF 3D) camera was used to construct 3D skeletons of apple trees. Pruning branches were identified in the reconstructed trees using a simplified two-step pruning rule; i) maintain specified branch spacing and ii) maintain specified branch length. Performance of the algorithm was optimized using a training sample of 10 trees to achieve human worker’s pruning level. With a selected branch spacing (28 cm) and branch length (20 cm), the algorithm achieved 19.5% branch removal with the training dataset and 19.8% of branch removal with the validation dataset (10 trees) compared to 22% average branch removal by workers. Root Mean Square Deviation (RMSD) between human and algorithm in number of branches identified for pruning was 10% for the training dataset and 13% for the validation dataset. The algorithm and the human pruning resulted in similar average branch spacing. The algorithm maintained an average spacing of 35.7 cm for validation set whereas the average spacing for three workers was 33.7 cm. RMSD in branch spacing between the algorithm and the workers was found to be 13%. The algorithm removed 85% of long branches whereas the overlapping branch removal was only 69%. With some additional work to improve the performance in terms of overlapping branch removal, it is expected that this work will provide a good foundation for automated pruning of tall spindle apple trees in the future.
A young commercial apple orchard (Allan Bros. Inc., Prosser, WA) in the central leader‐based fruiting wall architecture, left: rows (fruiting walls) of apple trees, and right: data acquisition platform showing imaging sensors and object of interest