UK-China Agritech Challenge - Utilizing Earth Observation and UAV Technologies to Deliver Pest and Disease Products and Services to End Users in China

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Geography


(KCL) This project aims to develop time-series tools for pest and disease monitoring, forecasting and management in China, providing service products at national and local levels to enhance pest and disease control of wheat rust and locusts in particular. It will also develop advanced UAV-based tools that provide more efficient spraying of control measures (biopesticides) to provide alleviation of these problems without causing chemical pollution. In this context, the King's team will be developing ways to downscale satellite-based maps of land surface temperature to scales more akin to those of the fields within which the crops grow, in order to aid the development of mathematical models that can be used to forecast and monitor the efficacy of the bio-control measures and the spread of wheat rust. They will develop UAV-based methods to deliver maps of crop parameters from aerial imagery, which will be used to help both development of the downscaled satellite datasets and to provide an understanding of the crop structures that can be used to help in the development of the spraying technologies and planning tools that will be developed for the aerial platforms. Finally they will also develop methods to remotely sense locust surface temperatures from thermal imaging, in order to contribute to the development of better models of locust internal body temperature upon which the final mathematical models of bio-pesticide development rate depends.

(Loughborough) Our proposal aims to develop a long term sustainable innovative partnership in agriculture technology between the UK and China through a comprehensive approach to deal with these two major agricultural pests/diseases. It will do so from a monitoring,forecasting and management perspective, combining cutting edge technology, modelling and biological information.The project is structured under six work packages that follow the cycle of a dynamic Agri-Tech service: observe to understand the nature of the problem and locate the pest/crop problem (WP1), orientate through development of forecast models to provide strategic risk awareness (WP2), decide providing useful information where to control pests at national and local levels (WP3), and act locally using precise application of bio pesticides via UAV deployments (WP4). The scopeof the project primarily falls into Agri-Tech Challenge 1 "Precision agriculture, agriculture digitisation and decision management tools" but also makes significant contributions to Challenge 2 "Improving the efficiency of sustainable agriculture". A key theme is to develop technologies for integrating data collected by UAVs, earth observation satellites,and bioscience applications related to disease/pest modelling. The project will develop autonomous and smart planning tools for agricultural remote sensing and plant protection, ultimately for the benefit of end users to reduce the cost and improve the effectiveness of their operations. One of the key outcomes is the development and application of novel technical systems for the monitoring and prediction of crop disease/pest outbreaks, As a novel technology, biopesticides treatment of orthoptera will be investigated and demonstrated, along with the modelling and prediction of yellow rust and orthoptera, real-time remote sensing methods will facilitate time specific and site specific treatment along with improved general farming management. Combining this with the work on biopesticides will significantly reduce the use of chemical pesticides and the risk of the development of crop's resistance to them, and will increase biodiversity due to lack of chemical pesticides. In addition to these benefits, the project will open up new business opportunities for both the UK, and Chinese industrial partners outside of China.

Planned Impact

(KCL) The project will ultimately improve livelihoods of farmers, service providers and other agricultural stakeholders who would benefit from improved pest and disease control application in China and beyond. Wheat yellow rust and locusts impose significant risks to agriculture productivity and food security in China and other countries. Combining modelling and prediction of these pests with real-time remote sensing data and work on biopesticides would facilitate time- and site-specific treatment, whilst also reducing use of chemical pesticides. China is making a significant effort to scale back use of chemical fertilizers and switch to alternatives, as there are concerns about the health impacts of the very large amounts of chemical pesticide used in food production within China, as well as environmental effects in relation to e.g. drinking water.Th alternative approach to reduce unnecessary, indiscriminate, and/or preventative spraying of chemical pesticides engendered by this project will have significant economic and environmental benefits, notably enabling agrochemical users to better target resources, thus representing monetary savings and leading to environmental benefits through reduced chemical application. This is also directly in line with Chinese Government policy to reduce chemical pesticide use.Farmers will benefit economically by being able to plan their spend on agro-inputs more efficiently. Ultimately improved losses of crops through less damage from pests/diseases would be achievable, helping farmers to lose less of what they grow, and therefore improve their yields. Better planned input application would allow the agro-inputs sector to plan marketing of seeds, biological control, chemicals, etc. to the forecasted needs and manage stock efficiently. Through improved application and new products (biopesticides) service providers will be more efficient in their applications.

The aspect of the project focused on the development of more precise spraying of chemicals when and where they are needed will lead to reduced release of chemicals into agrosystem environments, with added benefits of minimising harm to ecosystems by reducing unintentional damage to food webs from chemical application. Furthermore, application of biopesticides envisaged in this programme would be a natural product - different to a traditional chemical pesticide - that would degrade in the environment, avoiding any deleterious effects of environmental accumulation. A further medium term impact of the approach taken would be avoidance of pesticide resistance development. Reducing of the use of chemical pesticides (through use of alternative products such a biopesticides) significantly reduces risks that crops can develop resistance to pest control applications. Biopesticides exploit natural, durable antagonisms between organisms, which are unlikely to be overcome in the same way that chemical pesticides can be. This increases the longevity of this type of pest control approaches.

Overall, risks to human health will be reduced through their being less chemical residues in cropping systems and through use of alternative, safer, biopesticides. As well danger to the health of consumers, pesticide residues can threaten market access and economic returns via produce exceeding maximum allowable residue limits.

The long term, sustainable and innovative partnership developed during the project will support knowledge sharing and agriculture technology transfer within and between the UK and China. The project will build on a solid partnership, bring in new partners, each of which will be able to invest in personnel and knowledge development, which will facilitate future projects and work to expand the scope and reach of present work/outputs and ultimately also deliver new economic opportunities for both UK and Chinese businesses.


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Coombes M (2022) The influence of rotor downwash on spray distribution under a quadrotor unmanned aerial system in Computers and Electronics in Agriculture

Title UAV based method to map evapotranspiration from crops 
Description We have implemented a method using thermal and optical images onboard a small UAV to map evapotranspiration from crops, which is a significant control of plant water use and ultimately yield. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Mapping of evapotranspiration over crops in the UK. Unable to utilise in China as planned due to COVID