Drones to tackle fruit fly spread on soft fruit farms

Drones to tackle fruit fly spread on soft fruit farms

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David Green headshot 2
Dr David Green

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen are using drone technology to create a new monitoring system for the fruit fly Drosophila suzukii.

The drones will detect the pests much earlier than traditional methods by flying over “sticky traps” where the fruit fly can be identified from the air. Imaging capturing and processing systems will be developed to automatically differentiate fruit flies from other pests.

Also known as Spotted Wing Drosophila, the fruit fly has become a serious threat to soft fruit growers since arriving in the UK from Europe in 2012. Over the last few years it has affected several crops including strawberries, raspberries and grapes.

The three-year drone project aims to hone in on early detection, altering growers so they can take swift action to prevent crop damage, and improve upon the current monitoring methods which are time-consuming and costly.

Dr David Green, from the University of Aberdeen, explains how the Drosophila suzukii spreads rapidly and early detection is key to containing the devastating pest which has been found on farms in England’s key soft fruit growing regions in the the south east and as far north as Dundee, Scotland.

“Current monitoring methods usually involve manually checking traps for signs of the fruit fly, which is very time-consuming and inefficient if you are going from trap to trap over acres of land,” he says.

“One of the main challenges of our work will be developing a method that automatically identifies the presence of the fly among other pests. Our Dutch partners at the University of Wageningen are specialists in image processing, and our aim is to develop an image-capturing and processing system that can recognise the fly and carry out an automatic count in order to determine the density of the infestation.

“Ultimately, our goal is to develop a system which has real value for soft fruit growers – many of whom operate on tight margins – that can help protect their livelihoods.”

The project is funded by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), also involves Dr Johannes Fahrentrapp at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland and Dr Lammert Kooistra the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands.

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