Nov. 10, 2017
With growing consumer awareness about sustainable growing of healthy food, growers, traders, processors and other stakeholders of the food chain are under significant pressure to meet these expectations.
In addition, global trade and climate changes contribute a lot to the occurrences and spreading of invasive pests.
The way food was grown still a few years ago is usually not possible any more. In order to address these challenges, new, innovative pest control tools and techniques are being developed and used in an unprecedented scale. In order to use the new techniques optimally, far more attention needs to be put on monitoring and forecasting pest development stage. This is needed for chemical based control as well as ever more popular biocontrols. Of course, there are significant differences due to different crops, pests and climates, however knowing what is happening at the very moment and what is most likely to happen in the near future is crucial for all types of pest control.
Can technology help?
Two information technology based concepts have been widely discussed lately and there are countless attempts to implement them in various industries: Internet of Things (IoT) - which basically means sensors that are measuring various indicators and are capable of sending these measurements through internet and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – which in most cases means automated learning from previous data/events and using these patterns to predict what will happen in the future. These technology concepts are increasingly making its way to the agriculture as well.
In pest monitoring there is another element, which is equally or even more important for successful implementation. That is efficiency of catching targeted pests and understanding what certain catches actually mean. To achieve optimal results, multi-year trials, constant improvements and interdisciplinary knowledge are needed.
When it comes to the extent of technology advances, number of different pest species monitored or global geographical presence, Trapview seem to be a clear leader in automated monitoring and forecasting of pest population. That’s why concept of this tool is presented slightly more in details: Automated traps are catching targeted insects in the field and take pictures of caught insects daily. To do that the traps are equipped with electronics with various cameras and connectivity modules. Solar panel and battery give the trap complete energy independence. Additional features like weather sensors and self-cleaning capability can be optionally added to the device.
Trapview with funnel extension, self-cleaning option and weather sensors
The pictures and other collected data are sent to the cloud where they are processed by artificial intelligence to recognize targeted pests on images and for creating site specific pest forecast.
Pest classification as result of Artificial intelligence based image recognition
Finally, Trapview users can access and see the pest information by using web and mobile applications to be able to take optimal decisions. In addition, different means of notifications for users as well as integration of automated pest monitoring and forecasting with other information systems are available.
Is point specific enough? Introducing area-wide monitoring
There are quite a few of cases where point specific monitoring might be significantly misleading. Here are two such examples:
Mating disruption is a largely popular biocontrol technique. Grower installs his/her favorite mating disruption system in an orchard/vineyard and ideally that should solve pest issue for the season. However, there is an important catch – mating disruption acts like a protection shield which is efficient only until neighboring pest population is sufficiently low. Once this neighboring population grows to the levels which are too high for mating disruption to withstand, additional pest control measures are needed to reduce size of the pest population to manageable levels. This is where area-wide monitoring and forecasting comes into play. By knowing what is happening with current and near future pest population in the whole area, growers can much better plan and execute their actions at their specific locations.
The second example are migrating pests and pests with various host plants. A perfect example of such pest is Cotton bollworm (H. armigera) which is estimated to cause around 5 billion $ of damage yearly (with another $1 billion spent on insecticides to control). A multi-country project which is being conducted in the Mediterranean basin shows that there are clear benefits of area-wide monitoring.
Factors such as different timing of pest population development between different locations and importance of alternative host plans which enable build-up of the pest population can be determined. It is also rather simple to demonstrate, how growers in certain areas are most likely using too much (or at inappropriate pest development stage) of crop protection products which can lead to different resistance problems. In cases like area-wide monitoring of H. armigera growers or food processors can plan and mutually synchronize their crop protection related activities in a way, that they have minimal impact to the environment while ensuring top quality of their produce.
Example of area wide monitoring with trend indication
Can we really move from “to much too late” to “just-in-time”?
Considering advances of the technology, its proven track record worldwide and precise timing required by the latest crop protection products it seems that the answer is a resounding YES. However, there is probably still a long way to reach the point when automated pest monitoring and forecasting will be considered a common practice - especially in a usually rather conservative agriculture industry.
On the other hand, everyone in the food chain knows that the most expensive crop product is the one that has been nurtured for the whole season and then cannot be sold due to its poor quality. Do you really think that for example releasing natural predators/parasitoids and synchronizing these populations with the pest population in a way that it produces best results can really be done only by looking at the calendar using the same or very similar timing year after year?
Technology that is helping stakeholders to achieve consistent high-quality results while saving money has always been well accepted. Therefore, the synergies of combining automated monitoring and detailed forecasting with pest (bio)control seem to be paving bright future for such integrated approaches.
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