A University of New Brunswick professor and her team are looking to detect early stages of disease in crops from the sky.

UNB professor Dr. Brigitte Leblon and her team of researchers, along with partners from Western University, A&L Canada Laboratories Inc. and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, have received approximately $540,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to help develop drone technology that will be used for four precision agriculture applications. These include:

  • mapping crop damage surfaces;
  • detection of early and late blight disease in potatoes;
  • detection of powdery mildew, gummy stem blight and mosaic virus diseases on greenhouse cucumber plants; and
  • mapping crop nitrogen status.

“It is critical for the potato industry in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island that top-notch drone and operational monitoring systems are available for the future of farming,” says Dr. Leblon.

Canada currently has almost 1,300 potato producers, who collectively generate a farm gate value of approximately $1.1 billion annually. Thirty-nine per cent of potato production is harvested in Atlantic Canada and each year late blight disease causes $6 billion in damage crop worldwide. This drone will assist the potato industry in Canada and better achieve late blight crop management though the drone-based images.

The research will also help crop insurance agencies in New Brunswick and P.E.I. adopt more efficient methods for collecting information about crop damage with the drone. Crop insurance agency programs provide production risk protection to growers by minimizing the economic effects of crop losses caused by natural hazards, making crop insurance a critical necessity.

Cucumber production in 2011 reached a gate value of $279 million. Greenhouse cucumbers are subject to several pests and diseases such as the stem blight, powdery mildew, along with other viral diseases. In extreme cases, they can spread throughout the whole greenhouse resulting in 10 to 15 per cent yield loss.

“The use of drones is essential to improving Canadian farming. By developing new operational methods, we will save money and time while ensuring our crops are clean and well maintained,” says Dr. Leblon.

Dr. Leblon’s team is also receiving $125,000 from NSERC for additional research on the use of drone images for monitoring salt marsh and eelgrass bed restorations, and migratory bird populations.

Media contact: Kathleen McLaughlin

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