A new way to control slugs in field crops, using autonomous monitoring linked to precision application of nematode-based biopesticides, has been developed at the Agri-Tech Innovation Centre’s Crop Health & Protection (CHAP) laboratories in York, with a £350,000 Innovate UK grant.
Led by CHAP nematologist Jenna Ross, the collaborative project also included The Small Robot Company and farming and agricultural contracting company Lee Farm Services.
Robot-mounted vision recognition is at the heart of the system, ‘trained’ to identify and count slugs. A computer model determines the locations of slug ‘hotspots’, where populations are above treatment threshold levels, and makes decisions about treatment applications. The software then directs precision application of the biopesticide to these hotspots, rather than having to treat the whole field.
Dr Ross said one of the most difficult technical challenges was developing a vision system that could operate at night when the pests are most active. The final prototype platform carries six cameras with lights.
The project’s final stage concentrated on the robot’s precision spraying capabilities, developing a 1m boom, adapted from a conventional spraying system, which can treat as small an area as 20 x 20cm.
The consortium has bid for additional funding to move the technology closer to commercialisation.
CHAP has already begun further collaborative work using similar technology to enable field robots to detect and treat the first signs of a disease outbreak.
Working with Newcastle University, The Small Robot Company, and crop analytics specialists Fotenix, the SprayBot project is focused on detecting and mapping crop disease and applying product at a variable rate to small areas. “In the future, this could even include application to an individual plant or even leaf,” said project leader Richard Glass.
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