John Wilkerson, Ph.D., Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), has developed a chemical application system that is gaining traction in the agricultural industry. Following the execution of a licensing agreement with University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF), CapstanAG Systems Inc., an agricultural equipment manufacturer, developed and commercialized a product that applies a specific amount of fertilizer or pesticide precisely where it is needed.

Rising input costs and declining profits are driving farmers to find new ways to minimize costs associated with pesticide and fertilizer applications while reducing the environmental impact on their land. In response, Dr. Wilkerson worked with two of his graduate students to develop a seed-specific target system that allows a farmer to apply just the right dose of chemicals to each seed. This system detects the presence of a seed falling past a sensor, predicts when it will hit the ground, and then applies a liquid product, such as a fertilizer or pesticide, via a valve over the seed. When integrated into a planter, the system can apply a specific volume of liquid product at a specific location relative to each seed planted in a furrow. The result: a perfectly timed chemical application precisely where it is needed. [Seed-Squirter® Operation and Maintenance Manual]

Dr. Wilkerson developed an initial prototype using a custom-made fuel injector from a drag racing car, which provided the desired flow rate and speed needed to prove the system could be run in real time without slowing to turn the valve on and off. Field testing of the prototype on cotton revealed it could reduce fungicide use by 50%, without reducing efficiency, and could maintain the same level of protection.

“Farmers view each seed they plant as an investment,” said Dr. Wilkerson. “This technology allows them to stretch every dollar they invest in their row starter systems by accurately placing each seed and chemical. By reducing the amount of chemicals they use, farmers save money, waste less product, and reduce the impact of chemicals on the environment.”

After filing a patent application for his technology, UTRF was approached by CapstanAG Systems, Inc., a manufacturer known for designing and building high-tech spray equipment for agricultural applications. On June 1, 2012, CapstanAG signed a licensing agreement with UTRF to commercialize Dr. Wilkerson’s chemical application system. The resulting product, marketed as Seed-Squirter®  , is an add-on aftermarket unit that can be installed on most makes and models of planters.

“Dr. Wilkerson has invested a great deal of time and effort in researching, developing, and testing this technology for the marketplace,” said UTRF Licensing Associate, Dr. Nghia Chiem. “We are confident that the Seed-Squirter®  product will play a significant role in shifting the agricultural industry toward a ‘dose per seed’ approach for pesticide and fertilizer application.”

Dr. Wilkerson is glad he persisted in pursuing a patent and owes a great deal of gratitude to UTIA and UTRF. With UTIA’s support, he was afforded the opportunity to take his system from lab bench to prototype to field testing, steps that were crucial to bringing this technology to market. Dr. Wilkerson is also thankful for UTRF’s assistance, noting they could see the potential of this technology, despite its application to a limited market area, and worked to promote and commercialize his efforts.