Learn more about the implications of how agtech deals with pests and disease
Hobby gardeners and commercial growers alike have to deal with pests and diseases, which can ultimately hinder their ability to enjoy the fruits of their labor-- whether that means a smaller backyard harvest, or a significant loss of proceeds for farms. On a global scale, pests and about 137 different pathogens are reducing the five major food crops by 10-40%. Due to this global burden, which causes immense loss of produce and a substantial economic loss, there is now an increasingly large need for agtech to make a difference!
A great example of one of these disastrous diseases is fire blight in apples. According to an article written by our collaborators at WSU, Washington State orchard owners have seen serious amounts of damage in about 5-10% of orchards since 1993. Even though fire blight pathogens thrive in humid temperatures above 70 degrees, the cells can still survive and remain active during the winter in temperatures below 50 degrees. As you can see, fire blight is a ruthless disease that has no intent of stopping, and unfortunately, it seems to thrive during one of the most crucial phases in the growing process of orchards-- anytime there are flowers on the tree, when there is moisture, and when the weather is warm.
Currently, farmers are using preventive sprays to decrease the likelihood of early and late season pests and disease. Doing this will decrease the likelihood of reduced yields and other losses of production. Growers are then required to use their labor force to apply chemicals and take other preventative measures, when ideally, they would be able to utilize them in accomplishing other important tasks during this time of year. With labor being one of the largest costs for growers, the innov8.ag team feels a tremendous amount of responsibility to utilize our resources and technology in order to give growers the ability to accurately sense disease pressure in and outside of the canopy, so that they can better manage where their employees use preventative chemicals and other means to treat pests and diseases. By better allocating where disease and pests are in real time, the grower can manage their employees more efficiently on where to apply chemicals & cutting, resulting in less time spent accomplishing the job and ultimately less money spent on chemicals.
There are many variables that farmers & research-based models consider when assessing and managing pest & disease risk. Weather, water, soil moisture, & plant health are primary considerations, and innov8.ag is focused on bringing together these disparate data sources to help growers manage risk based on their unique environment. Our Smart Orchard pilot is a great example of where we're bringing these data sources together, enabling the grower to streamline decisioning based on a consolidated data view.
Our smart orchard has soil moisture probes from Tuctronics, AquaSpy, & Meter Group. The amazing implication of these sensors is that it allows the grower to monitor the amount of water going into the plant. Pests and diseases actually thrive off of too much moisture in the plant, making it difficult for the grower to manage a balance between getting the plant enough water to survive, and watering too much to the point where pest and diseases will inevitably destroy the crop. It seems almost impossible to manage water correctly in this aspect. But thankfully, the aid of soil moisture sensors enables the grower to find this thin line in the plants' life cycle where the management of plant moisture is high enough to create maximum crop yields and low enough to prevent pests and diseases from destroying the crop.
Sometimes identifying diseases can be difficult, and it often requires a specialists who have a diverse range of knowledge in plant biology. In reality, most people don't have access to universities or biologists that can give you insights on the diseases affecting your crop. For a quick and easy diagnosis, there is a variety of software and different apps that allow the grower to use their mobile device to take a picture of the disease and get an immediate diagnoses with treatment plans.
Our close friends and partners at Tuctronics have recently been developing such an application. Jeff and Todd Tucker, the owners of Tuctronics, are on the innov8.ag advisory board, working with us in a majority of our projects. Our strong collaboration was formulated in order to bring researchers' data to growers' fingertips, empowering them to make the best decisions for their farms. Their disease identification app, which is still in development, allows growers to upload leaf pictures to compare to images of both healthy and blight-afflicted crops in order to determine plant health. It's a quick, intuitive tool that becomes more effective the more it is used.
Stay tuned for more about the development of this application.
Growers have a high interest in identifying fire blight and other diseases early on in the season. One of the areas we have been recently exploring to identify diseases and pests early on is through drone and satellite imagery. In a previous blog written by our Innov8.ag team, Rolling into the 2020 Growing Season, we talked about the implications of how UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) with infrared cameras can concentrate on specific plants to detect early stages of pest and disease damage to your crop.
Through the use of modern drone technology, the grower can use the same drone to not only identify these early stages of damage but by simply adding a few attachments transforming the drone into a tool to accurately apply fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post about the Smart Guided System where we will dive deeper on the implications of how we are currently using LiDAR agtech on the Smart Orchard project.
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