A snapshot of plant diseases

A camera that measures photosynthesis in the crop is one of the cornerstones of a sophisticated Dutch system of monitoring and disease-control in glasshouses.

The automated camera, which moves around the greenhouse observing the plants, reveals if they are under stress by detecting a reduction in photosynthetic activity.

A DNA test measuring the slightest traces of pathogens that damage plants, and a precision spray system that only affects the plant and not the surrounding air, are also part of the Gezonde Kas (healthy greenhouse) project at Wageningen University.

In development over the last four years, it is now ready for practical applications, says Wageningen UR project leader, Carolien Zijlstra.

“The strength of the system is that we can detect problems before they become apparent. Of course, it’s only useful to know if a plant is under stress if you can also find out where the stress comes from,” Zijlstra says.

“This is why a system was also developed within the project that tracks down the nature of any pathogens in the plants identified as being under stress, via the DNA. This monitoring is done at the level of individual plants.”

“If you know, at a very early stage, that there are traces of pathogens in a crop, you are often better able to deploy effective biological control methods or alternative measures,” Zijlstra says.

“And if it still proves necessary to use chemicals as a last resort, we developed an automatic spray system within the project that detects whether the nozzle is facing a plant or empty intermediary space. This allows us to halve the normal amount of pesticides used.” The Gezonde Kas project has also developed a system that maps greenhouse environmental factors, such as humidity and temperature, which can influence development of pests and diseases.

“While the high-tech CF camera is especially interesting for larger growers or partnerships, we anticipate that the monitoring of the climate in a greenhouse will be useful for a much wider group of horticulturists,” says Zijlstra.

The scientists in the Gezonde Kas project expect that their approach will eventually be applied outside the greenhouse, too, in other growing systems.

With a budget of €10m, the project was funded by the EU, and Dutch and German national and regional governments.


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