[ASC-media] Media release: robots on pest patrol

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Tue Aug 10 10:51:45 EST 2004

Sir Mark Oliphant Conferences 2004 Media Release

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


The weeds, pests and diseases that rob humanity of so much of its food supply may soon have something new to contend with - pest-spotting robots.

British research has been experimenting with sensor systems to provide early warning on the weeds, diseases and insects that slash crop yields.

The reason, explains Prof. Dick Godwin, Head of Engineering at the UK National Soil Resources Institute, is that weeds, pests and diseases usually occur in patches. 

Walking through a growing crop trying to spot them is costly, time-consuming and impractical over large areas - but leaving them too long before controlling them can be costlier still.  Early warning systems to spot trouble before it arises are starting to look very promising, he says.

Prof. Godwin is an international guest speaker at the Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Converging Technologies taking place in Melbourne this week.

Precision farming requires a much more detailed understanding of what is going on, not only in individual paddocks, but in parts of the paddock, he says.

"The main limitations to crop yield are water, soil conditions, the shape of the land, fertility and pests and diseases. Technology is providing us with a converging array of new ways to monitor and understand these."

For example, electromagnetic induction scanners can now be used as a guide to soil moisture content or soil compaction across a paddock. Combined with topographic mapping, microclimate sensors and canopy density sampling a much fuller picture can now be built up about the condition of the crop and how to manage it for optimum yield, Prof. Godwin says.

In the case of weeds, pests and diseases early warning from a cruising ATV (all terrain vehicle) can lead to timelier treatment. The precision use of pesticides and herbicides in areas most at risk of attack will reduce the amount of chemicals needed to grow food, benefit the environment and cut farm costs.

The 2004 Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Converging Technologies for Agriculture and Environment is on from Monday 9th to Thursday 12th August at the Duxton Hotel, 328 Flinders Street, Melbourne, and various research sites.

More information:
Professor Dick Godwin, UK National Soil Resources Institute 

At the conference:
c/- Duxton Hotel, Melbourne, 03 9250 1888
or Richard Gill, CRC for Microtechnology, 0417 477 244      richard.g at microtechnologycrc.com

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