Sensor-software device could help farmers to protect crops

Farmers are trialling a new sensor and software technology that will allow them to better protect their crops with pesticide before pathogens can infect.

The system comprises a piece of online software that gathers real-time geographical data on weather conditions and logged incidences of infection.

It then uses mathematical models to predict how likely a certain pathogen is to be present in the vicinity of a particular farmer’s field.

The farmer then uses a simple test kit that can provide confirmation of whether the pathogen is indeed present and can apply pesticide as required.

Prof Roy Kennedy, director of the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit (NPARU) based at Worcester University, led the development of the technology, which was funded by the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

‘The device is very similar to a pregnancy test but it’s set up to detect important plant pathogens. It’s semi-quantitative in that you can put the test device into a digital reader and look at the reading in relation to a calibration curve, which tells you how many propagules [active spores] are in the air.’

Kennedy added that early warning of infection means that farmers no longer have to waste time and money spraying crops when there is no disease in the air — resulting in more targeted protection with potentially greater yields.

‘We have several of these devices each set up for different pathogens that affect different crops in the UK — and we’re looking to detect these in the air before they infect the crop.’

The system is being tested out by several agriculture consultancies, including the Allium and Brassica Centre (ABC) in Lincolnshire, and Alphagrow in Lancashire.