The latest drone technology could give growers the edge against a major disease that causes £100m of winter oil seed rape losses each year.
Skippy Scout is a phone app, developed by technology pioneers Drone Ag, that uses a drone to gather crop images. The high resolution, leaf level images can help to spot the signs of Phoma and stem canker faster which could reduce losses this season.
“Based on annual survey data presented by Crop Monitor it is estimated that Phoma results in losses of about £100 million each season, despite fungicide treatment,” says Drone Ag founder Jack Wrangham. “It is vital that farmers spot Phoma early. Using Skippy to do so will save money, increase the efficacy of fungicides, and increase yield,” he adds.
AHDB offers a Phoma forecast which, in conjunction with regular crop walking, can improve the chances of catching the disease early. Robert Ord is an agronomist with MSP and has been using Skippy Scout to monitor crops. “I am able to cover more crops in more detail by using a combination of conventional methods and Skippy. The drone can spot problems quickly which enables me to make best use of my time. With Skippy I can also save data from points in a field to analyse crop establishment and development at different stages in the growing season,” he says.
Phoma is typically treated with two sprays. Using data collected by a drone can help to establish the optimum timing, explains Mr Ord. “It’s about collating data from all available sources and being able to continually monitor the crop for small changes. The most time efficient way to do this is with a drone. It is roughly five times faster to walk a crop using a drone in comparison to traditional methods. If we are going to improve our WOSR yields, we should be making best use of all the resources available to us,” he says.
Skippy Scout uses field maps to automate drone flight. By uploading field maps, farmers can choose points in fields for the drone to fly to and take images. The high-resolution images have sufficient detail to spot the very early signs of Phoma. “The whole process is automated and very easy to use, all you need is your phone and a drone. Drones start at just £369 and, straight out of the box, users can identify Phoma on a leaf in the early stages to help time the use of fungicides more accurately,” says Mr Wrangham.