Scientists at the University of Florida’s Southwest Florida Research and Education Center have taken tomato research to the skies.
An agricultural engineer and a plant pathologist have joined forces to use drones to combat the spread of bacterial spot and target spot—two deadly tomato diseases.
The project’s plant pathologist, Dr. Pamela Roberts, has more than 20 years of tomato research under her belt.
"The two [diseases] that this research focused on are chronic, we have them every single season," Roberts said. "They can be very devastating and that’s one of the reasons that we we’re looking at early detection in order to try to intervene as early as possible."
Roberts said tomato growers traditionally have to physically check crops for signs of disease, which is time consuming and labor intensive.
Using drones, Roberts and colleague Dr. Yiannis Ampatzidis were able to identify the diseases with 99% accuracy, according to a recently published study.
"In this paper we describe two different techniques," Ampatzidis said. "One is using the drones to detect diseases in the field and the second one is using just the remote sensing image processing to detect the diseases in the lab."
The drones can survey about 60 acres of tomato crops during a 20-minute flight using a special camera that measures the light reflected by the plant to detect potential disease hotspots.
The researchers are currently validating their findings with commercial growers and hope to promote the adoption of drone technology among tomato growers within the next year.