Innovate UK is funding a newly commissioned project to establish a proven method for the precision application of fungicides and biopesticides. Pesticides negatively impact air, water and soil quality as well as the health of animals, birds and fish. SprayBot will investigate how combining early disease detection techniques such as imaging and spore sensors with robotic machinery can create a system to improve the application of fungicides and biopesticides, with the aim of reducing overall pesticide use.
SprayBot will be delivered as a three year feasibility study by Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) – one of four UK Agri-Tech Centres, in collaboration with partners Newcastle University, Fotenix and Small Robot Company. Newcastle University brings disease forecasting and diagnostics knowledge whilst Fotenix adds crop imaging and analytics expertise. With its farming robots, Tom, Dick and Harry, Small Robot Company is already conducting field trials for non-chemical weeding, which could cut chemicals by up to 95%.
Sam Watson Jones, co-founder of Small Robot Company, “Microspraying could be game-changing for the industry. Pressure is increasing from regulators, leaving farmers short of options. SprayBot could enable a new generation of spot treatment chemicals, reduce costs, and significantly reduce the impact on biodiversity.
“Up to 95% of chemicals are wasted in the current farming system. Unfortunately, if you treat the whole field the same, waste is inevitable. Robotic precision application technology will be both economically and environmentally sustainable. The best of both worlds.”
By bringing together leading expertise from across the UK, it is hoped that SprayBot will give farmers a valuable tool in implementing sustainable farming practises. Aiding the adoption of biologicals and other integrated pest management techniques, whilst proactively addressing the Government’s net zero target through improving and reducing inputs.
“Plant protection products remain an important input for growers, ensuring they can reliably produce crops to feed the world’s rapidly expanding population.” says Richard Glass, Sector Lead at CHAP.
“But their risk-based cautionary use and application could be improved, helping promote the sector’s sustainability and environmental credentials, whilst helping protect the future of the effective chemistry that remains.
“Thanks to significant advances within the world of agri-tech, it’s now possible to use targeted ‘variable rate’ applications of other inputs such as nutrition.
“SprayBot aims to investigate a system that can do the same for fungicides and biopesticides – detecting and mapping crop disease and then applying product at a variable rate to small areas of the crop. In the future, this could also extend to an individual plant or even leaf.”
Dr Charles Veys, Managing Director at Fotenix said: “The protection of future food security relies on the viability of novel and sustainable alternatives to protect our crops. SprayBot brings together the latest in disease profiling alongside automated platforms, which close the loop from early detection to impactful treatment, bringing the savings to both the farm’s bottom line and its environmental footprint.
“Fotenix is excited to continue to work alongside Small Robot Company to push back the envelope of possibility in farm services and to benefit from the vast experience at CHAP and Newcastle University to target this fast-paced development.”