The game-changing technology helping with pest detections

An Australian company is taking the guess-work out of pest management, through real-time information of insect detection in orchards and farms.

RapidAIM is the digital pest surveillance and management system for agriculture, using novel patented, low-power sensors that detect the presence of insects in a growing environment.

"They are based on the capacitance-type sensor, and as insects enter the trap, they get detected and discriminated," CEO and Founder, Dr Nancy Schellhorn said. "So, we run algorithms in combination with our sensors, and the information is sent to the cloud, in real-time, and a customer can see on their mobile app what’s happening in their orchards and across the farm. Producers can have confidence about not having pests and confidence when pest appear and where. But better than that, producers can then take management action, and see if their management is working. We want to be able to save producers costs, reduce crop loss and give confidence that pest management is working."

Photo: Dr Nancy Schellhorn at the evokeAG. 2020 conference

A key benefit, according to Dr Schellhorn is that the sensors are low-power, which means that the system is price-point competitive with insurance sprays and manual monitoring, but it provides a high-resolution of pest populations and a "high-confidence" of the control effectiveness. Another advantage of the system is early detection.

"Deploying a grid and putting a lot of these devices out there, for example, an orchardist may want one per two hectares, that gives producers confidence with a high-probability that pests are not in the orchard," she said. "But if you make a detection, then you know what is going on. That's why getting a high-resolution of what's going on is important for management."

The RapidAIM system has only recently commenced commercial sales in September 2019, and have just improved their communication systems by switching to the narrowband Internet of Things (IoT), from communications that previously required gateways. There are already plans to upgrade to global radio, for international coverage.

Dr Schellhorn says the company has two main types of surveillance.

"First, we roll out wide-scale surveillance grids across regions," she said. "So, we focus on those global pests that don't recognise the borders of farms or regions. Then second, we upscale to growers for their orchards. We just started that, and we are providing surveillance for fruit fly across a couple of regions every 200 square kilometres. Now we have several growers who subscribe to Orchard Protect on their properties where they’re using RapidAIM on their borders. With deciduous crops, this is where we first see detections early."

Photo: Adam Upton, from Upton Agronomy, deploying RapidAIM IoT devices. 

Dr Schellhorn adds that most importantly the system reduces the need for insurance sprays. Those sprays that are applied because managing pests is a guessing game and producers can’t take the risk of damage. So far RapidAIM has found that there are not only productivity benefits for governments, by reducing costs by 30 per cent, but to individual growers.

"We are just now working with growers to understand what it saves them," Dr Schellhorn said. "What they are telling us is that they are not having to spray weekly and worry about whether the pest is still there; they know whether it is there and then take action - or they have confidence in knowing that they don’t have to spray. Another benefit is they really like knowing if their management is working. It also gives great transparency to any of the wholesaler and trading partners that they have their pest problems well and truly managed."

While reducing the sprays is not only a good thing for efficiencies and reducing the risk of insecticide resistance, RapidAIM says it also opens the door for biological and microbial products that are coming onto the market.

"Traditionally, growers have found the use of biocides to be challenging and not as stable, so there's not a lot of confidence that they are working," Dr Schellhorn said. "What this does is it allows them to start using those products and discover where it is working in their orchard, if it is working and where they may need to re-target. We're really about sustainable, best practice pest management, and RapidAIM makes that happen."

For more information
Dr Nancy Schellhorn

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