WITH lockdown rules in force, increasing farmers are using smart tools to spot crop diseases more effectively this spring.

One such, the new mobile phone app, Skippy Scout, from technology pioneer Drone Ag, is being used to pinpoint diseases such as yellow rust and septoria tritici earlier using drone imagery.

“Spotting the signs of common diseases as early as possible has become increasingly important to controlling them promptly,” said Drone Ag founder, Jack Wrangham. “A drone can scout a field and send images to a farmer’s mobile phone five times faster than conventional crop walking.”

They can fly in close proximity to the crop and take high resolution, leaf level images that are sent to the user’s phone in real time. These images can be used to identify the extent to which disease is affecting leaves. “This point in the year is crucial for arable farmers to protect crops against a variety of foliar diseases,” pointed out Mr Wrangham. “In minutes, a drone can take images of multiple points in a field. The images are detailed enough to identify early signs of many common crop diseases.

“Skippy Scout offers farmers and agronomists an opportunity to spot diseases faster and reduce the risk of irreparable damage to yield. Preventing yield loss will ultimately help farmers improve crop margins.”

Using drones enables farmers to share images with their agronomists between visits. Robert Ord, agronomist for MSP Agriculture, said: “This technology gives me an accurate image of how crops are developing at this time of year. Using Skippy Scout, or looking at images sent to me, I can identify disease before it becomes too established and protect crops earlier.”

Drone Ag has had more than 50 user downloads of Skippy Scout in its first month of sales, but Mr Wrangham pointed out: “This is not future technology. It is available now and can be downloaded to help farmers walk crops faster this year. Drones are widely available, and prices have dropped to £200 for a Mavic Mini which requires no licence to fly and can be used straight out of the box.”

In addition to high resolution images, he is also developing artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret drone images, a feature that will be integrated into Skippy Scout later this year.


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