Smartphone app to help farmers with pest control

22 January 2019

UK scientists are creating a smartphone app to help farmers tackle the pests that destroy their crops – and it could have a major impact on the way information about the natural world is gathered, stored and accessed worldwide.

A team of researchers from the University of Lincoln, supported by STFC, is designing and building the app to help farmers in hot climates tackle the spread of locusts on their land.

The team gathered more than 10,000 images of locusts in various stages of growth to train the system behind the app. Researchers travelled to China to gather images and videos so that the app can recognise a variety of terrain and plant growth, and they have also built specialist facilities in Lincoln to house locusts from their earliest stages of life through to adulthood. By observing the locusts 24 hours a day, the team has built a huge data set to inform their app, and this collection of thousands of images and videos – the first of its kind in the world – will also be a valuable resource for the wider scientific community.

By recognising locusts through a smartphone camera, the app will be able to identify the stage of the insect’s growth. Using this information, the farmer can use pesticides more accurately to target the insects in the early stages of their lifespan, significantly reducing the amount of crop damage.

This targeted approach could also reduce pesticide residue levels, leading to increased food safety while maintaining food security, and reduce environmental pollution, protecting nearby water systems.

“Each year, approximately 18 million hectares of land are damaged by locusts and grasshoppers, impacting hugely on farmers and their productivity,” explains Dr Bashir Al-Diri from the University of Lincoln. “Their monitoring techniques currently rely on field surveys by people through digging insect eggs, but this information only helps farmers to make mid and long term forecasting decisions and can delay effective management measures.

“By digitally recording the exact number, age and location of locusts, we hope this new app will put more knowledge and more power into the hands of the farmers. They will be able to predict insect population and spread, and act quickly and accurately to save their crops.”

With its advanced computer vision technology, the developers hope that the app framework will also be used for a wide range of other applications in the future to capture and document information about the natural world.

More information is available on the University of Lincoln website.

Last updated: 22 January 2019

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