Australia is the food bowl of the southern hemisphere, and one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of grain. In the face of numerous diseases that limit productivity potential, farmers must ensure they use integrated management practices to sustain production. The Grains Research and Development Corporation estimates in Australia that the combined control costs and lost productivity associated with crop diseases is $1.4 billion per year.
Adaptation to climate change has seen farming practices modified, improving grain production security. These changes have seen stubble burning, soil cultivation and use of synthetic fertilizers decrease.
These farming practices, whilst improving sustainability, often result in the increased levels of disease. Retention of plant material following harvest builds soil carbon, offsetting CO2 emissions, yet provides a host for diseases which can infect crops.
To maintain crop yields, growers today use integrated disease management practices. These practices use a combination of cultural, chemical, physical and biological processes to ensure long term sustainability and reduce the occurrence of disease outbreaks whilst building resistance.
Recent rapid advancement in technologies has allowed for accurate identification for the occurrence of disease. Early detection of diseases allows growers the ability to implement any of the integrated management practices before economic injury thresholds are exceeded.
Diseases are generally spread through airborne particles between plants and can travel over many hundreds of kilometres. A disease outbreak in Western Australia, may be seen in Eastern states within a number of weeks.
The introduction of Telstra’s nationwide low-power wide area communication technologies, known as LPWANs, provide farmers the ability to deploy off-grid environmental sensors, supporting localised region specific data capture.
TwoFold is a two part, predictive and detective disease management system. It will support effective farm management and ensure the world's food security is both sustained and enhanced.
Established data on environmental conditions which promote disease growth can be integrated with weather data published by the Bureau of Meteorology and on-farm soil sensors, leveraging the capabilities of Telstra’s LPWANs. This data can be used to calculate the expected likelihood of diseases. Mitigation and maintenance strategies are available to farmers through an online portal, with consideration for their unique environment.
To complement disease prediction, a detection monitoring system featuring adhesive tape exposed to the air which collects airborne material including diseases is used. A camera with a macro lens automatically captures a photo of the disease spores on the tape. This photo is transmitted to the online cloud processing service Microsoft Azure where diseases can be analysed either by a human or through artificial intelligence.
The use of emerging technologies including LPWANs and cloud services allows accurate and enhanced detection of disease so management practices can be implemented well ahead of crop yield and economic losses.