Battling the harmful Cercospora fungus with big data, light and artificial intelligence
The earlier Cercospora leaf spot is stopped, the fewer the losses that sugarbeet farmers will suffer. In the “DataPlant” project, three research institutions and companies are combining their farming and optics expertise in an effort to automatically spot the fungus at an early stage – with the help of light, sensors, weather data and artificial intelligence.
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Using a laser and a thermal imaging camera, the TU Clausthal system is able to detect at an early stage whether the leaves of a sugar beet are infested with cercospora.
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The Lülich Research Centre uses a system that detects a glow from reflected energy during photosynthesis. The assumption: leaves infected with cercospora radiate energy differently than healthy plants.
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Ideal poor conditions for research: The sugar beets on KWS' experimental field in Plattling near Regensburg, Bavaria, show clear traces of the cercospora fungus.
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On the computer, the researchers can see where the leaf spot disease has spread from the thermal imaging camera images. The TU Dortmund derives relevant data from this in order to be able to make future forecasts on cercospora infestation.
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Ludmilla Dahl from KWS contributes her experience as a breeder to the "Data Plant" project.
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The goal is to produce healthy sugar beets and a high-yield harvest with little use of spray.
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Physicist and phenotyping expert Christoph Bauer (KWS): "This procedure is not restricted to cercospora.”
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Open-air research laboratory: The systems from Jülich and Clausthal, a weather station, a drone with camera and breeder with their many years of experience, contribute joint data to the "Data Plant" project.
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Dr. Ulrike Willer uses infested sugar beet leaves for tests in the TU Clausthal laboratory.
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Under laboratory conditions, it is easier to use the laser and the thermal imaging camera than in daylight. The reason: In sunshine in the wild, the temperature differences are no longer as constant and clear as in the laboratory.
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The analyses in the laboratory provide a good starting position for research in the wild.
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Physicist Dr. Ulrike Willer (TU Clausthal): "With their measurements, each project partner delivers a piece of the puzzle that is supposed to fit together to form a whole at the end".
The project partners:
The DataPlant project is being funded by the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Why? The key reason is that the project is being conducted by a consortium of leading institutions and companies in Germany that are involved in the complex area of “digitalization of agriculture.” In addition to KWS, the group consists of seed experts, physicists at the Technical University of TU Clausthal, phenotyping experts at the Research Center of Jülich and computer scientists at the Technical University of Dortmund who have joined KWS in the investigation of new data-analysis opportunities. The project also includes the companies Infratec and MG Optical Solutions for sensor and measurement technology as well as experts from BASF Digital Farming.