Devising a method for the precision application of fungicides and biopesticides is being investigated in a newly-commissioned project funded by Innovate UK.
Following a successful Smart Grant application, a three year feasibility study called SprayBot will take place delivered by Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) in collaboration with Newcastle University, the Small Robot Company and Fotenix.
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 – reducing overall pesticide use.
CHAP sector lead Richard Glass said: “Plant protection products remain an important input for growers, ensuring they can reliably produce crops to feed the world’s rapidly expanding population.
“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.”
It is hoped that SprayBot will give farmers a valuable tool in implementing sustainable farming practises. In doing so, it could proactively help meet the government’s net zero target by improving and reducing inputs.
The techology includes disease forecasting and diagnostics from Newcastle University; crop imaging and analytics from Fotenix, spray application from Silsoe Spray Application Unit; and autonomous robotics from Small Robot Company.
Small Robot Company co-founder Sam Watson Jones said SprayBot could enable a new generation of spot treatment chemicals, reduce costs, and significantly reduce the impact on biodiversity. “Microspraying could be game-changing for the industry,” he added.
“Up to 95% of chemicals are wasted in the current farming system. Robotic precision application technology will be both economically and environmentally sustainable.”