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How digital pest and disease mapping can boost flower output

Saturday February 15 2020

A worker in a flower farm harvests hypericum flowers ahead of a past Valentine Day in 2012.

A flower farm worker harvests hypericums ahead of a past Valentine Day in 2012. With cut flower growing in such a competitive market, gaining a differentiating advantage is key and hence it is time to allow digital mapping solutions to take operations to the next level. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

LISBETH RIIS
By LISBETH RIIS
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Mapping of pests and diseases in horticulture is still often a manual, inaccurate and inefficient process relying on paper-based analysis and individual knowledge.

Farms use a team of scouts to collect data on many hectares of greenhouses and measure the effectiveness of pesticide spraying.

Using these manual processes to analyse data is complex enough in one greenhouse – let alone 20 or more, all of which will have their own unique factors impacting pest and disease control such as temperature, moisture and risk of physical damage.

Advanced GPS mapping and analytics tools are readily available to digitise a large portion of pest and disease mapping, tracking and control. Here are three key benefits of using technology.

Reduced crop losses

A digital GPS-based map will present a clear basis for problem shooting by correctly mapping out the extent of pests and diseases in an individual greenhouse.

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Take a disease such as Downy Mildew for example, which occurs in moist, cool and poorly ventilated conditions. By using scouting data to digitally map the greenhouse, farm managers can see the pattern of activity visually represented leading to prompt response.

Improved pesticide and biological control

All greenhouse environments are slightly different — so pest and disease presence and proliferation will vary for each and every one. So, using the same volume and coverage of pesticide spraying across them all makes no sense.

With an effective map, farm managers can target spraying to specific areas in specified rows, minimising the volume of pesticide used across the entire farm.

The same applies to biological control. Let’s take the presence of spider mites for example. There is a significant cost associated with the deployment of predatory mites.

Excellent scouting and mapping of the locations within a greenhouse allows the spatially targeted release of the predatory mites, specifically where there are spider mites and insufficient numbers of predators.

This avoids wasting predatory mites where there are no spider mites, or where there are already sufficient numbers of predators.

Better farm management

Farm management can be revolutionised by using software to analyse huge data sets and graphically represent an accurate view of every greenhouse. This software is available and is being used to great effect in many cut flower farms across the world. Here is how it works.

Every full scouting cycle from each and every greenhouse should be completed one to two times per week – tracking a whole range of pest and disease information. When the data is logged into a mobile device it becomes very easy to build an overall picture of the performance of the whole farm.

Daily reports containing key information are delivered directly to the farm or crop protection manager – such as spider mite presence, downy mildew, powdery mildew, head botrytis, thrips and damage and much more. Not only does this allow farm or crop managers to track performance daily, they can dig deeper into particular focus areas dating back months or years.

This enables managers to make data-driven decisions to focus scouts and farm workers on target areas and report accurate and up-to-date management information to farm owners.

If they are working with an experienced solution provider who owns a wide enough data set, they can even anonymously track their performance against the average data for other farms in their area.

This technology is changing how the world targets crop pests and diseases. With cut flower growing in such a competitive market, gaining a differentiating advantage is key. It’s time for this community to allow digital mapping solutions to take their operations to the next level.

The writer is the founder and CEO of Scarab Solutions