Drone technology aids race against rust

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Weather patterns, varietal resistance shifting and potential new races of rust have led some agronomists to use drone technology to identify the disease faster.

“The last couple of seasons have seen yellow and brown rust become a greater concern,” said David Cairns, agronomist at McCreath Simpson & Prentice (MSP). “Growers need to be observant of this disease due to its speed of development. A small outbreak in a field can develop rapidly. We have started using Skippy Scout, from Drone Ag, to find rust faster.”

A drone can take leaf level images of multiple points in a field in minutes. The images are said to be detailed enough to identify early signs of many common crop diseases such as rust.

“Skippy Scout offers farmers and agronomists an opportunity to spot diseases faster. This can reduce the risk of irreparable damage to yield and prevent losses, which will ultimately help farmers improve crop margins,” Mr Cairns said.

rust close up

Rust can infect the plant and go on to create new spores with seven days, making it crucial to catch the disease early

“Using Skippy Scout does not replace conventional crop walking, it complements it. I can see more of the crop, more often, and I can revisit any areas of concern more quickly and frequently,” he added.

As we move into spring, depending on weather conditions, rust could appear quite rapidly and will need treating urgently. Humidity is linked to rust with coastal regions being especially vulnerable, but all areas need to be on guard. Despite efforts to grow varieties that are resistant, it is still strongly advised that crops are monitored regularly for fear of new strains.

In perfect conditions, the complete rust cycle from infection to the production of new spores can take as little as seven days. This means that the disease cycle can be repeated many times in one season.

“We know the scale of the problem and we should be using every tool we can to minimise its impact on yield. Using drones to monitor crops and back up the work we do in the field has helped us spot rust early and protect crops more effectively,” Mr Cairns concluded.

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About Author

Machinery editor for Farm Contractor & Large Scale Farmer. Matt has worked as an agricultural machinery journalist for five years, following time spent in his family’s Worcestershire contracting business. When he’s not driving or writing about the latest farm equipment, he can be found in his local cinema, or with his headphones in, reading a good book.