Space-enabled Crop disEase maNagement sErvice via Crop sprAying Drones (SCENE-CAD)

Lead Research Organisation: Loughborough University
Department Name: Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering

Abstract

Crops diseases are widely considered as one of the main challenges in modern intensive agriculture. They not only damage crop yields and quality, posing serious threats on food security, but also exert adverse impact on the environment due to inappropriate and ineffective treatment of using excessive pesticides. The overarching goal of this project is to develop and deliver a turnkey crop disease management service to key stakeholders in China and other relevant countries, which will support them in early detection, rapid response and targeted intervention of major crop diseases. This goal will be achieved by combining a number of crop disease monitoring and forecasting technologies developed from the previous STFC UK-China Newton Agritech projects and extending their impact through integration with crop-spraying drones, so that the benefits of early identification and forecasting of crop diseases can be consolidated by rapid, targeted, and automated pesticide spraying actions.

This project is structured under six main work packages (WPs), including four product/service development work packages to develop and transfer space-enabled technologies into agriculture services/tools and two demonstration work packages to encourage the acceptance of the developed services and disseminate the technologies to other countries. To facilitate the technology development/transfer, recent advances in image analysis will be assembled and utilised to extract key information from remote sensing data (WP1). Following the cycle of a dynamic crop disease management process, the project will first develop a cloud-based online service to identify, monitor and forecast hot-spot regions of overwintering wheat rusts using crop disease models, information from satellite and drone remote sensing and environmental parameters (WP2). Such information reported by the online service can be used to inform the planning and deployment of crop spraying drones to promptly control the diseases. Second, to guarantee the quality and efficacy of the pesticide delivery, an intelligent and user-friendly planning and management software for crop spraying drones will be developed (WP4), where a parametric drone spraying model (WP3) will be established to characterise spraying deposit distribution and further software tool to assess the spraying quality on different crops/diseases.

The practical benefits and long-term impact of the developed products/services will be demonstrated, with the strong support from project partners in China, through two demonstration campaigns designed in this project. The first one (WP5) focuses on the overwintering wheat rusts in Gansu Province, which is the origin of inoculum that causing yield losses in the main wheat production in the Central China. It is expected that the hot-spot areas of rusts can be effectively identified using the developed service and treated using spraying drones in autumn, thus preventing or reducing the rust epidemics in spring in other regions of China. The second campaign (WP6) is dedicated to showcase the benefits in the case of rapid response to unexpected disease outbreak. The spraying missions can be automatically generated using the developed software based on the disease severity and distribution in a variable-rate manner to ensure the spraying quality while reducing operator's workload and the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

It is envisaged that this project will provide an integrated Agri-tech service for crop disease management that is able to improve the food productivity, reduce both the labour and pesticide costs in practice, and contribute to the long-term sustainable growth in agriculture. Moreover, through the impact activities, the project will have a profound and long-lasting impact on the local crop protection organisations, spraying service providers, drone operators and eventually the farmers, in China and beyond.

Planned Impact

By promoting food security and environment protection through developing and delivering the informative and automated disease management service enabled by space/drone technology, this project will ultimately improve the livelihoods of targeted agricultural stakeholders such as farmers, local communities, plant protection service providers, local and central government and agriculture companies.

In this research, wheat yellow rust will be used as the main example to demonstrate the impact and promote the technological approach. Wheat, along with rice and maize, is one of the three most important staple crops in China and is also the mostly widely grown crop (215m ha) feeding 2.5 billion people worldwide. Alarmingly, 88% of the world's wheat production is susceptible to yellow rust infection, resulting in a yearly loss of £0.8 billion worth of crops. This study, combing modelling and prediction of rust disease with near real-time remote sensing information and automated drone spraying, would facilitate timely and site-specific disease treatment, which not only can preserve wheat productivity, but also lead to a reduced use of chemical pesticides, generating enormous environmental, social and economic benefits to UK, China and beyond.

The substantially reduced use of pesticide due to the newly developed early disease monitoring, forecasting and precision intervention services in this project will significantly mitigate its adverse effects on environment including air (pesticide drift), water (pesticide residues) and soil (damage to the community of microorganisms), and agriculture product (pesticide residues). Therefore, this project will not only help protect the environment but also improve human wellbeing and animal welfare.

Early disease monitoring and timely intervention can maximally preserve crop productivity by using a reduced dose of pesticide, and therefore will also improve profitability on farmlands. This is particularly important when considering te enormous scale of wheat production in China and worldwide. Higher annual incomes due to introduction of the developed services will benefit the health of the rural poor, particularly the Gansu mountainous region, one of the least developed regions in China. This will help to reduce the malnutrition prevalent in the under 5's, and the increased health benefits of the working population and their offspring. Improving workers' income will make paying for medical care and reduce general domestic disharmony. In addition, the adoption of drone spraying instead of manual backpack spraying will significantly reduce the risks of exposure to harmful agents, benefiting equally male and female smallholder farmers.

Beyond the direct impact in agriculture, the space and drone enabled precision management technologies can also find a wide range of other applications in related areas. For example, it can be directly applied to forest protection and monitoring including fire detection and monitoring and pest/disease mapping. It could also be applied to pollution monitoring and tracking, flooding prediction, etc., generating more and wide impact.

This project can promote the long term, sustainable and innovative partnership, which will support knowledge sharing, uptake of agricultural technologies and technology transfer within and between the UK, China and third country partners. New Chinese partners (e.g. GAAS, NAPPA, BAT) and third world country partners in South Asia and Africa will all contribute to personnel and knowledge development, which will facilitate future Agri-tech projects and work to expand the scope and ultimately deliver new social, environment and economic opportunities.

Publications

10 25 50