Researchers at two UK universities are starting a new project to develop a photonic ‘nose’ to monitor crops for pest infestations and plant disease. Aston University is collaborating with Harper Adams University to research and develop technology using light to monitor crop health.
The Midlands-based research will be using strawberries to test the new technology. The fruit is worth £350 million to the UK economy, but is vulnerable to potato aphid. Although at this point in time, crops are treated with pesticides, but there’s increasing pressure to find alternatives due to the environmental impact.
One method is to use integrated pest management (IPM) to create an early warning system. It monitors plants for build-up of insects and diseases rather than spraying plants with chemicals, but so far it’s proven unreliable and expensive. The new project uses recent developments in photonics technology that can analyse low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by plants, which indicate their health.