Eye in the sky proposed to scout for pest weevil infestation in pea crops

Drones finding Pea Weevils

[Editor’s Note: Rene Clough of Wairarapa Aerial Imaging hopes to bring partners such as MPI, growers, seed and vegetable merchants together, to fund surveying pea producing regions.]

This post originally appeared on http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/wairarapa/82609904/eye-in-the-sky-proposed-to-scout-for-pest-weevil-infestation-in-pea-crops.

Drones that have been employed to fight velvetleaf may be an important weapon in detecting outbreaks of pea weevil in pea crops.

New aerial scanning technology can detect changes in plant physiology caused by pest infestations and a Wairarapa-based drone business believes they can help in the war against New Zealand’s latest biosecurity threat.

Rene Clough of Wairarapa Aerial Imaging said the research shows that specialised scanning technology that has been employed on drones overseas can pick up tell-tale signs in plants with an infestation.

He said he had spoken to experts who believed it could work with pea plants too.

“They said they have done research on peas before and they reckon yes we would be able to detect the pest a lot sooner.”

Wairarapa Aerial Imaging wants to set up a research programme and work with pea farmers in Wairarapa and work out a programme locally.

“If there is a threat of it moving over the country then we would like to help the rest of the country as well,” Clough said.

Veronica Herrera, the Ministry for Primary Industries’ director of investigation diagnostic centres and response, said the Government was actively trialling drone technology to detect other biosecurity threats such as velvetleaf, which was discovered for first time in the South Island earlier this year.

MPI would consider options such as those proposed by Wairarapa Aerial Imaging to see whether the technology could be employed to detect pea weevil infestations, but Herrera said they needed to do more research to validate the claims and see if it was cost-effective.

“Definitely drones are a potential idea for biosecurity use. In the case of the pea weevil, we need a lot more information.

“Our [MPI] managers that are involved with research projects related to drones will look into this,” she said.

MPI plans to plant trap crops of peas in Wairarapa to lure and destroy the pest, but also to gather information about how widespread the weevil has become.

Clough suggests drones could be used to analyse the health of these crops to help researchers hone in on problem areas as well as scan crops outside the Wairarapa region to see if they can detect plant deterioration that may be caused by the pest.

His plan is to bring parties together that have an interest in protecting these crops such as the MPI, growers, seed and vegetable merchants to finance a project to survey pea producing regions.

He estimates it would cost between $20,000-$90,000 to get the scanning technology operational in Wairarapa and that includes the fixed-wing drone, the specialist sensors and software licences.

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