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High-tech tool helping apple growers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

High-tech tool helping apple growers

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SOUTH HERO, Vt. -

Ron Hackett has been growing apples on his orchard for 47 years.

"I love growing things," said Hackett of Hackett's Orchard. "I love being outdoors."

He's had a lot of success. But in the past three years he's gotten some help. He's been using a weather station located on his property to grow apples using fewer pesticides. The weather station is part of Cornell University's Network for Environment and Weather Applications.

"It's useful to the point where I couldn't get along without it right now to tell you the truth," Hackett said.

The weather station keeps track of all sorts of data. It has temperature, rain, wind and even leaf wetness.

"It's a grid that's mounted on the station that when the parts of the grid have a drop of water on them, it connects a circuit and you can measure that the leaves are wet," explained Terence Bradshaw of the UVM Apple Team.

The data uploads to servers in Ithaca, N.Y. It's ingested into programs that keep track of key weather conditions for apple growers like Hackett.

There are eight of these weather stations located in Vermont; each station runs around $2,000.

"The Vermont Fruit Tree Growers Association in collaboration with the University of Vermont Apple Team have been funding this program, mostly through grants," Bradshaw said.

"It takes a tremendous amount of guesswork out of the spray program. When to spray, how often to spray, things like that," Hackett said.

Hackett tells us that his weather station saves him about 2-3 sprays per year, resulting in a better bottom line. But that's not the only benefit.

"I think we can also have better fruit," he said.

And with better fruit, Hackett might have a harder time deciding on his favorite kind of apple.

"I think my favorite right now-- and I shouldn't say this in Macintosh country-- but Honeycrisp is a pretty good apple... We won't tell anyone," Hackett said with a laugh.

The next time you bite into a crisp orchard apple, you might have to give some of the credit to a nearby weather station.

The data from the weather stations is also being used in models developed for growing grapes, onions and tomatoes. Other crops may be included in the future.

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