In the spirit of Agri 3.0, Matogen Applied Insights (MAI) created a sophisticated weather and plant disease risk alert system, using data and technology to mitigate the potentially dire repercussions of crop failure
Weather-related crop disease
Throughout the centuries, crop diseases have had the capacity to obliterate entire harvests, the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s being a famous example of Potato Late Blight which led to mass starvation and emigration. The disease in question, Potato Blight (Phytophthora infestans), is a fungal infection caused by spores that are transported by wind and develop on susceptible plants when weather conditions are favourable, i.e. warm and humid.
To this day, crop losses due to Potato Blight amount to billions of US dollars worldwide, despite the scientific advances in chemical crop protection. This could be attributed to ever-increasing temperature and humidity levels effectively expanding the areas at risk, as well the existence of a wider variety of strains of fungal infections — most likely due to mutation.
Agricultural scientists have defined a formal description of the weather conditions that are conducive to Potato Blight. Initially, a “Smith Period” referred to a 48 hour period during which the minimum temperature measures 10°C or greater, in addition to the relative humidity exceeding 90% for at least 11 hours during the first 24 hour period, and then again for at least 11 hours during the final 24 hour period. A more recent, and simpler, definition is the “Hutton Period”, which denotes two consecutive days with minimum air temperatures of 10°C and relative humidity of more than 90% for at least 6 hours.
Plant disease risk prediction
Increasingly, using agricultural data to predict plant disease has become an important tool in crop management. This type of forecasting is necessary to justify each instance of fungicide application, as well as optimise the timing, targeting and dosage. Several factors influence the level of risk for plant disease including the crop flowering stage, petal or airborne spore inoculum levels and weather conditions. A Risk Score is calculated based on these variables.
Weather risk alert system
Matogen Applied Insights’ (MAI) client in the agricultural sector had a disease risk alert system in place, comprising many manual manipulations of weather station and other data, spreadsheet calculations and appending data in different file formats for distribution. While feasible at the time, the methodology was sensitive to errors and limited in terms of the number of diseases and variety of crops for which predictions could be made, as well as being labour and therefore time intensive.
MAI designed an alert system which uses weather data to calculate indices for disease risk using weather station data. As certain risk thresholds are reached, electronic messages are sent out to registered parties. The system also includes a high-resolution risk map and a myriad of weather information as well as recommendations relating to risk mitigation, for example if weather conditions are suitable for spraying crop protection products.
In addition, MAI provides service support to ensure optimal functionality of the risk alert system. The data captured by the system is also analysed and used to examine trends in crop risks and provide reporting on registered user activity for business intelligence purposes. As an ongoing project, the system is currently being expanded to include additional crops and their specific diseases.