Sunday, 20 August 2023 15:25

BioScout: Taking the guesswork out of fungal diseases

Written by  Mark Daniel

Lewis Collins was working on spore trapping as part of his microbiology studies when he thought about the challenge of analysing airborne diseases. By the time useful data was received, it was typically too late to avoid an outbreak within a crop.

With his mechatronic engineering cap on, Lewis had a vision of automating the process so that growers could get a real-time understanding of the minuscule pathogens in their environment. BioScout is a high-tech solution that takes the guesswork out of detecting fungal crop diseases, such as Alternaria fruit rot or downy mildew, allowing a better focus on other vineyard tasks.

Typically, growers rely on intuition and symptomatic indicators to manage disease in production crops, often resulting in spraying too much, too often and at the wrong time. BioScout is said to allow growers to see the ‘unseeable’ and react to a disease presence weeks before it impacts yields, whilst also reducing preventive sprays by understanding the general disease risk. Three installations near Blenheim are currently in their first season of use in New Zealand.

The BioScout Platform is fully autonomous and can operate for many years on end without human intervention. Alongside a world-first airborne disease tracking ability, they are equipped with a comprehensive suite of environmental sensors, including monitoring weather conditions and live spore counts. This allows the system to provide the complete picture of disease risk at field-level resolution, typically up to two weeks before symptoms become apparent in the crop.

In operation, air is drawn into the units causing particles to adhere to a sticky strip. These particles ae constantly photographed using automated microscopy. From here, an AI function compares the photos with a constantly expanding database of pathogen images. This allows the system to track the spread of fungal diseases in vineyards, providing growers and agronomists with real-time, location and disease specific data. As a rule of thumb, one BioScout device would be able to offer informative data for 20 to 100 hectares, although unit density would depend on topography and target diseases, decided by a site survey.

Spore numbers are taken daily and relayed to growers via custom dashboard software, in conjunction with standard weather data (temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction). Customers can filter data based on individual units, target diseases and timeframes to help make informed decisions on disease management.

The full BioScout dashboard can be viewed on a laptop, displaying a map of an individual property, showing the location of the devices, all current pathogen warnings and weather information. The company suggests that having a better understanding of how critical environmental conditions affect your disease risk, allows growers to apply fungicides exactly when needed for maximum effectiveness and an improved return on investment. At the same time, it also offers peace of mind by removing the ‘unknown factor’, while also improving confidence in reducing fungicide use and offering the choice of switching to more biological solutions.

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