UK technology identifies wheat-damaging diseases

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New technology for accurately identifying wheat-damaging weeds and diseases at their point of emergence in a crop has been developed in the UK, in what is believed to be a world first.

The innovative ‘early warning’ system was invented by British agri-tech company Omega Crop (formerly Dark Horse Technologies) with the support of Agri-EPI Centre and Cranfield University. Innovate UK funding was provided under a programme to boost post-Covid food resilience.

It uses Omega Crop’s patented crop modelling technology, which analyses drone-gathered images of a wheat crop to identify the presence of preventable disease and weeds, often before a farmer or agronomist could detect the problem by eye. This gives the farmer time to make an informed choice about if and how they can intervene to protect their yield.

Jared said: “At present, other remote sensing platforms can only monitor the performance of a crop and then they correlate this performance to a “best guess” at what the problem is. They might tell you, you have a disease or weed problem, but they are unable to tell you what diseases, or what weeds.

“Omega Crop’s technology differs from our competitors through our proprietary crop model which we use to best inform you of crop performance, quality, and crop-loss events. It takes the guess-work out of the process by using multiple sources of data from satellites, drone, mobiles phones, hyper-local weather, as well as any other available sources (e.g. soil sampling, any in-field data collected from farmers or agronomists) to accurately diagnose and map the crop-loss events in a field provided as a digital report via our platform to the farmer and agronomist. Omega Crop is also able to integrate with existing farm machinery to target solutions on a plant-by-plant basis. The two key benefits are that farmers can maximise yields through early interventions and lower the cost of production through more precise application of treatments.”

Omega Crop’s system was recently trialled over a three-month period at Agri-EPI’s Crop Technology Southern Innovation Hub based at Cranfield University, supported by Cranfield’s crop science experts.

Dr Toby Waine, Senior Lecturer in applied remote sensing at Cranfield University said: “This project shows how innovative sensing and analytics can better inform business and environmental decisions. Detecting crop disease and weeds earlier in the season will help to reduce the use of plant protection products, helping to maximise efficiency of production and minimise environmental impact. It’s fantastic to be working with SMEs like Omega Crop who are helping bring forward the innovative technologies we need to improve food supply, reduce waste and protect the environment.”

After proving the success of the system, the trials have now moved on to real farms in UK, Europe and the United States.  The system can so far detect Black Grass, Septoria and Fusarium Head Blight. Omega Crop is rapidly building up a library of additional weeds and diseases on multiple crops to increase the scope of their product.

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