New technology can ‘sniff out’ crop diseases

Jean Ristaino
Jean Ristaino, and her team at North Carolina State University, have developed portable technology that allows growers to identify plant diseases in the field.

Two ground-breaking new technologies, the Plant Sniffer and BioScout, could potentially change the speed with which Australian grain growers can identify and respond to crop disease outbreaks.

These innovative technologies and more will be discussed at the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Grains Research Update, Perth, which will be held at Crown Perth on February 24 and 25.

Jean Ristaino, of North Carolina State University, will outline the ground-breaking work her team is doing in the development of a portable technology, dubbed the ‘Plant Sniffer’, that allows growers to identify plant diseases in the paddock.

Professor Ristaino and her team have developed the handheld device, which is plugged into a smartphone, and works by sampling the airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that plants release through their leaves.

By measuring the type and concentration of VOCs being released by the plant, the Plant Sniffer can quickly determine, in the field, whether a plant is diseased and which disease it has.

Current disease identification techniques rely on molecular assays, which take hours to perform in a laboratory. Getting a sample to the laboratory and waiting for testing can delay disease identification by days or weeks.

“Our technology – that we are now ready to scale up – will help growers identify diseases more quickly, so they can limit the spread of the disease and related crop damage,” Professor Ristaino said.

Lewis Collins
Lewis Collins is one of the founders and chief executive officer of BioScout, a company which builds real-time airborne disease detection sensors for agriculture.

Discussing the BioScout platform will be Lewis Collins, one of the founders and chief executive officer of the company BioScout, that builds real-time airborne disease detection sensors for agriculture.

BioScout allows growers to track and monitor disease in their fields in real-time via disease sensors.

The patented sensors automatically collect and detect disease-causing particles in the air.

By detecting these particles, BioScout allows growers to gather information on the best intervention and protection practices for their crops based on the location and type of disease detected.

It uses a combination of biological air sampling, mapping and data analytics to track disease spread. The sensors are placed throughout the field, collecting disease data 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mr Collins will discuss how BioScout has been developed and tested from initial scientific validation through to commercial applications.

The two-day Grains Research Update, Perth, is an important source of agronomic and industry information and resources, and a key opportunity for interaction between advisers, growers and other industry personnel.

This year, the cost of attending has been reduced to encourage even greater participation from industry and growers.

The maximum price will be $300, for which participants will receive two packed days of information with more than 50 presenters talking about the latest research results and innovations to assist on-farm profitability.

GRDC Update Perth crowd
This year, the cost of attending the GRDC Grains Research Update, Perth, has been reduced to encourage even greater participation from industry and growers.

More than 40 concurrent sessions will be held over the two days on important issues impacting on grower profitability – ranging from specific crop agronomy, nutrition management and weed control through to frost and soil constraints.

Extended focus sessions on the second day will cover: coping with climate change, external crop protection challenges and how to implement integrated pest management systems on farm.

The GRDC Grains Research Update, Perth will be followed by five regional one-day GRDC Grains Research Update events at the following WA locations:

  • Kwinana West Zone, Corrigin Recreation and Events Centre – February 27
  • Kwinana East Zone, Merredin Regional Community and Leisure Centre – February 28
  • Geraldton Zone, Yuna Community Centre – March 6
  • Albany Zone, Jerramungup Sports Centre – March 11
  • Esperance Zone, Lake King Hall – March 12.

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