Detect Pest Damage and Optimize Pesticide Application

About the project

David Trent* was one such farmer who wanted to reduce the quantity of pesticide treatment. By using Agremo image analytics, he discovered Red Spider infestation in his avocado plantation.

Agremo software, based on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, has perfected aerial image analysis by working on thousands of acres worldwide and now boasts only a 2% error.

Once David was assured that Agremo offered Pest Detection Analysis customized for trees such as avocados, he followed their advice and collected images of his farm with a drone. Next, he stitched the images to obtain a seamless 2D map of his farm that he uploaded to the Agremo web app.

Agremo’s rapid analytics identified, classified, and quantified pest infestation in avocados using spectral data and several vegetative indices, going beyond NDVI. The report showed that 83.1% of the avocado trees were fine, 13.4% showed potential stress, that is early stages of pest infestations, and 3.5% had heavy pest infestation.

David used the analyzed field map sent by Agremo to locate areas of infestation and he restricted treatment to only 16.9% of his farm. He saved inputs and $1244 per pesticide application. For the first time, he had also succeeded in proactive and early identification of infestation and an increase in yield. There was also an 80% reduction in soil and water pollution.

Customer requirements and challenges

David Trent, an avocado farmer, was alarmed to find the Red Spider, Tetranychus, on his trees. His distress was justified, as this is a major pest known to affect avocado fields.

Though Tetranychus is called the Red Spider, it is a spider-mite. They spin thick webs that protect them from predators and their environment, making it difficult to control them. As it is a common non-specific pest, it can spread easily from neighboring farms.

David usually sprayed the entire field several times in a year to prevent and reduce the spread of this mite. Application cost $70 per hectare (ha), and as the farm was 21.4 ha large, each treatment amounted to around $1500.

Pest was also environmentally unfriendly.  Frequent and large applications of pesticides result in leaching of chemicals into the soil and reduction of farm fertility. The chemicals also enter running streams and underground water sources and can contaminate drinking water.

His friend, who had warned him about the ecological problems, also told him that there is a way to reduce pesticide input. He introduced him to precision farming which allows Ag professionals to determine the exact extent of pests’ infestation quickly and easily.

David realized that he should restrict the application of chemicals only where pests occurred, instead of applying pesticides on the whole farm. For this, he would need to obtain exact information about the crops’ health.

Client needs

  • Provide objective, accurate, and reliable analysis of the crops
  • Detect pests and their exact location in the early phases so that he can contain their spread on the farm

Existing process / Field condition

David scouted his fields for pests by regularly inspecting his trees. However, 21.4 ha is a large area and avocado treetops, which can be up to 20 feet high, are not visible from the ground.

It was easy to miss pest attacks occurring on the tree canopies or even inside the canopy. Making a thorough search for pests or damage they caused is nearly impossible. Therefore, David had had to spray the whole field, rather than risk damage to the avocado crop and lose yield.

The Red Spider lives on the underside of leaves and sucks their sap. Initial yellow spots spread gradually, turning the whole leaf yellow. As a result, if the pest is not detected and controlled in time, they reduce yield. Moreover, spots on avocado fruit lower their market value.

David wanted reliable information on the pest attack before reducing pesticide application but was not sure if precision farming was as useful for orchards as it was for annual plants.

How Agremo approached the challenge

When David talked with experts at Agremo, they were able to assure him that our software was effective for orchards and avocados, as well.

David told us he knew the Red Spider caused the damage, as it was not the first time that this pest had attacked his farm.

For this reason, we suggested that he tried the pest analysis, a software solution designed to identify pest damage, pest emergence, and pest impact on plant growth. We recommended conducting pest analysis mid and late-season for early and continuous monitoring of crop health. This way, early detection is possible to prevent the spread of pests.

To assure David about the benefits of this analysis, we explained that it is based on many factors, including but not restricted to Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). We showed him how NDVI works, as well as how Agremo analytics goes beyond this index.

NDVI measures the greenness of plants in an area. Healthy plants have high levels of green biomass, while in the case of unhealthy plants with pests, there is less green mass or leaves. This vegetative index also detects various levels of greenness and health.

In addition, Agremo uses spectral data from plants and other indices because not all crops and plants are green, and not all pests manifest as changes in coloring. This means that relying only on NDVI could offer misleading results. As such, Agremo’s solution is much more reliable than mere NDVI analyses.

Pest analysis is able to detect completely healthy trees and those affected by pests, as well as determine the intensity of infestation.

As David had observed, each plant or tree has different structures and canopy shapes and sizes. Agremo pest analysis considers these variations and uses different values depending on the crops. This assured David that our algorithms use indices customized for each crop to deliver the most accurate results.

In addition, David could expect more from Agremo pest analysis, including:

All this, without the need for prior experience in mapping or image analysis.

Design and Plan

Collect data

Analyze data

Deliver and Apply

The process and the solution

To be able to use Agremo pest analysis, we walked David through our three-step process: getting images, stitching them, and uploading the ground truth image on our website.

The first phase - Drone:

First, he used a drone to get high-resolution photos of his farm. It was not difficult and didn’t take long. The photos were of different areas of his orchard.

The second phase- Map:

Secondly, he combined the photos using software made available by DroneDeploy, an online stitching tool. The result was a seamless map of his whole field.

The third phase - App:

Lastly, he uploaded the map to the Agremo website and chose pest analysis. Agremo precision agriculture software analyzed the image and the report was checked by our team of professional agronomists before it was sent to David. The results he received were more than just an output from a machine test.

The fourth phase - Results:

The report was sent to David within the promised two-days deadline, in two file formats: the shapefile (shp) and document (pdf). The whole process was quick and David could handle his part without any problems.

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What were the decisions informed by Agremo analysis?

The Agremo pest analysis report was easy-to-understand. It divided his field based on pest infestation and pest intensity into three parts and presented data in hectares or percentages. He found:

  • 17.78 ha or 83.1% of the orchard was fine and had no stress
  • 2.87 ha or 13.4% of the farm was potentially stressed
  • 0.8 ha or 3.5% of the field showed heavy pest stress

Moreover, the map showed the precise location in the fields which were heavily or potentially stressed by pests.

With the information on the quantity and location of the infestation, David could make decisions in a way that was not possible before. Instead of spraying the whole farm, he decided to concentrate only on parts of the orchard that showed pest and potential stress. So, in total, he sprayed only 16.9% of his fields.

By doing so he had many economic benefits:

  • Reduction of inputs because of the use of precise amounts of pesticides sufficient for 16.9% of the farm that was stressed by pests.
  • By discovering the areas with a potential pest infestation, he could spray proactively to prevent further tree damage.
  • Application of pesticides where needed to control the pests.
  • Regulated machinery use, which caused less wear and tear.
  • Improved yield because he was able to keep pest damage under control.

David was also able to solve the problem of his farm’s impact on the environment by using precision farming methods. Since he applied pesticides only where needed, he avoided the over-use of chemicals. As a result:

  • There was about an 80% reduction in soil and water pollution
  • He minimized poisoning of non-target insects and wildlife in his farms and the surrounding areas

Summary: Return on Investment (ROI) on precision agriculture with Agremo

David used Agremo pest analysis early when he spotted the Red Spider on his avocado field.

Using drones and our solution, he was able to get the information he needed quickly without wasting time and money on expensive manual scouting. Moreover, the results of the analysis gave him precise information on the extent and location of the pest problem. This is something he didn’t have in previous years.

He acted quickly by spraying not only the areas affected by pests but also those that would be potentially affected by the spider-mite. He was able to prevent potential outbreaks in new parts of his avocado orchards. He was also able to save $1244 per pesticide application by restricting the spraying area.

At the end of the season, David also got a good yield and was assured he had not sacrificed harvest when he reduced pesticide input. By cutting pesticide costs, David had increased his returns on investment. He had also learned that precision farming methods were easy to apply to his farm. He would be using it again in the future and for other crops.

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