Real-time Greenhouse Sensors Can Reduce Crop Loss

Greenhouse Sensor

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The horticulture industry is constantly evolving. Many operations are at the forefront of innovation, using cutting-edge technology to improve efficiency and profit margins. However, one of the biggest challenges is always pests and diseases.

Traditionally, growers walk through the greenhouse and scout for pests and diseases. Drones have taken on that task in recent years. In some cases, once a pest or disease is detected, it’s too late.

Scanit Technologies, which offers crop disease detection sensor technology, detects disease before there are visible signs. It uses a miniature optical microscope that attracts airborne pathogens. The sensor is multimodal, meaning it works under different wavelengths. The functionality can be programmed based on the application and the type of particles growers want to collect. It can detect fungal spores for diseases such as powdery mildew, botrytis cinerea, and botrytis elliptica. The sensor sends data to growers every 7 to 15 minutes.

“Since we’re collecting the spores that are flying through the air, we collect them two to three weeks before a human scout can see them when they inspect the crop,” says Pete Manautou, Founder and CEO of Scanit Technologies. “The advantage of this technology is it helps quantify the efficacy of the mitigation strategy for pathogens. Whether you’re using a biological or a fungicide spray, it helps the grower see how the spores are decreasing in quantity after an application, rather than waiting another two to three weeks for another application, saying this is not working, and trying something different.”

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There are also certain regular occurrences in a greenhouse that may affect pathogen levels. For example, growers may notice that there is a spike in pathogen spores every day around 2 p.m. That may be the time that the heating or cooling system turns on, or when the greenhouse windows are open and outdoor air enters the space. Another factor that can cause an increase in pathogen detection is moving equipment around the greenhouse, Manautou says. As machines move through the aisle, they may touch the foliage and spread fungal spores.

“Having all of that data in the hands of the growers gives them the information they need to implement better processes to contain and mitigate disease,” he says. “There may be an alternative to turning on the HVAC. You can turn on the HVAC, but also turn on the UV filtration system.”

Growers know the importance of sanitation at the end of the season, especially if they struggled with pests and diseases throughout the year. Disease detection technologies can also be used to determine if a room is truly clean enough. The operations team can use sensors to measure if there are still disease spores in a room after it has been cleaned. Employees can compare one room to another to see if they are reaching the same sanitation level in all greenhouses. One of the most common culprits, Manautou says, is the mother room.

“That’s where we see a lot of problems start and it spreads through the entire facility,” Manautou says. “Being able to know exactly what type of disease and how much disease is in the mother room, that’s the first step. If you already have disease in the mother room, it will spread everywhere you take those plants.”

Every Day Counts

Real-time sensor technology is helpful in treating a disease problem before it’s too late. Manautou says one cannabis grower saw the botrytis levels in their facility increasing before the crop reached a certain maturity level. They were able to suppress the botrytis by applying additional fungicides specific to botrytis before the flowers were too big. After a certain threshold, government regulations prevent growers from applying more chemicals.

“The data is there to empower growers with information so they can decide what to do next,” Manautou says.

For cannabis growers in particular, it is important to note that real-time sensors are never closed, unlike labs. Cannabis growers may harvest the product, take it to a lab for inspection, which delays packaging by two weeks or more, then find out that it may not be able to be sold due to disease.

“You might get rejected. Having data two to three weeks before you harvest is critical to that operation,” Manautou says. “At least you know what will happen, to some extent.”

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