Sensors and ICT applications for effective and efficient use of fungicides

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites of fungi that can cause adverse effects to animals and human health upon ingestion. In Europe, Fusarium spp. are the main fungal species of small grain cereals; they are encountered throughout Europe with different subspecies producing different mycotoxins. The most important Fusarium toxins in European small grain cereals include deoxynivalenol (DON) and zearalenone (ZEA). Infection of the cereals with Fusarium spp. species leads to the crop disease Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), which in results into reduced crop yields and quality of the kernels (kernels are smaller, shriveled and colored).

Generally, cereal farmers bear the economic burden due to lower crop yields and the presence of mycotoxins due to Fusarium spp. presence. For example, in 2014, the price of infected wheat was 67 euros per ton lower than normal (Boerderij Vandaag d.d. 30 December 2014). Besides the losses due to lower crop yield and quality, the presence of DON and ZEA can result into animal and human health problems, and lower prices because of mycotoxin contamination. Cereals with the lowest mycotoxin levels can be sold for human food or for feed to the most sensitive animal species at a high price, whereas crops with higher mycotoxin levels can be sold for other animal feeds at a lower price or are rejected outright. Effects on animal health include reduced growth, lower productivity, and fertility, thus decreased animal production figures.  

Limit economic losses and health problems

To limit economic losses and health problems, Fusarium spp. infection of small grain cereals, fungal growth, and related toxin production can be prevented in the field by applying fungicides against Fusarium Head Blight (FHB). The same goes with spraying against other wheat pathogenic infections. For sustainability, economic and human health reasons, these fungicides and other pesticides should be applied with care. A dedicated, timely and spatial specific spraying plan is needed to limit infection and mycotoxin contami

Fusarium spp. infection in cereals leads to yields and quality losses and can also result in mycotoxin contamination. These toxins are harmful to human and animal health. From a sustainability perspective, the use of fungicides in under pressure. Fungicides should therefore only be applied in a very targeted manner, i.e. locally in the field and only if it is really necessary.

Aim of the project

The aim of the current project is to develop a Decision Support System (DSS) that supports the grain growers in the decision making about the fungicides application only at where the grain is affected. The DSS consists of the use of hyperspectral cameras that hang under drones. The growers fly over the field with the drones. Camera images are combined with existing mycotoxin prediction models. The data is processed by algorithms into information for the grower to help them to decide where to apply fungicide locally in the field. If possible, other cereal diseases are also determined, in addition to Fusarium spp.

The project will therefore reduce the use of fungicides, improve sustainability and improve the grain yield, quality and safety.