Smart traps are being erected in the grainbelt as part of a research project to develop remote surveillance technology to improve crop pest and disease management over increasingly vast farming properties.
The traps are being erected on properties around Geraldton, Northam, Merredin and Katanning to discover how effectively they monitor major threats to grain crops.
The research is part of the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development grains projects to address challenges faced by Western Australian grain growers in addressing threats to crops.
Department development officer Christiaan Valentine and his team have been testing a collection of commercial smart traps, as well as several prototypes that monitor pest and disease populations remotely.
Mr Valentine said some of the traps had been used successfully in the horticulture industry and showed promise for use in the grainbelt.
“We have been testing two types of automated moth traps from the US for the past few months in the Carnarvon horticulture precinct, where moths are present all year round,” he said.
“The devices collect data about trapped moths, which is uploaded to the internet from which it can be accessed and interpreted.
“This information is used to determine the likelihood of moths migrating into crops and laying eggs to better target the caterpillars and spray applications. The traps also use a pheromone lure, specific to the moth species, so that they can be targeted.”
The department has also been developing its own automated moth trap to complement the commercial traps, as well as a prototype aphid trap.
“The automated moth trap is a more simple design, which uses a small circuit board to operate a camera that takes images of moths as they fall into the trap,” Mr Valentine said.
“A 3-D printer was used to create an aphid trap, attached to a mobile phone and powered by a solar panel.
“We downloaded an app onto relatively cheap mobile phones, which enables the device to take an image of the insects in the trap and upload it to the internet. It’s a relatively simple device that has worked surprisingly well.”
The project team is also developing a way of monitoring the canola disease sclerotinia, as it develops in the field.
“The sclerote monitors use either a mobile phone or a mini-computer, called a Raspberry Pi, with up to four cameras attached to capture images of the small, mushroom-like structures (apothecia) that emerge from the germinating sclerotes,” Mr Valentine said.
“The Rasperry Pi’s also monitor soil surface temperature and moisture and the surrounding sub-surface air to help increase our knowledge of the conditions required for sclerote germination. The device also helps to predict when sclerotinia is likely to infect crops and the best time for management.”
Passive spore trap prototypes, originally developed by department officers, have also been upgraded, via the use of a 3-D printer, to monitor sclerotinia and rust spores in paddocks.
“The ultimate aim is to set up a network or array of these passive spore traps in paddocks across the grainbelt to collect spores that are moving across the area,” Mr Valentine said.
“The spores can be collected and DNA technology can then be used to identify the pathogen at a molecular level, for rapid in-field diagnosis of the disease.”
As grain properties expand and crop monitoring over large areas becomes more difficult, Mr Valentine said it was important to adopt and adapt new technologies that would aid pest and disease surveillance.
“The real-time data collected from these smart traps will help growers to control crop threats, as well as improve pest and disease modelling across the grainbelt,” he said.
“Identification and diagnosis is critical to minimise the impact of crop pests or diseases, whether endemic or exotic, and their impact on yields, profitability and market access.”
The Boosting Grains Research and Development Flagship projects are funded by Royalties for Regions.
The project also links to an Australian Government Rural Research and Development for Profit project, funded via the Grains Research and Development Corporation, to examine the use of next generation technologies to safeguard agricultural production and enhance the nation’s biosecurity reputation.
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