MothNet, a partnership between two companies, has secured funding from Innovate UK to develop a fully automated codling moth monitoring system that will offer a multitude of benefits to apple growers.
The innovative project will exploit Agsenze's innovative IoT systems and combine them with International Pheromone Systems’ highly effective pheromone lures and traps to improve upon existing codling moth monitoring systems that are often unreliable and labour intensive.
Key to controlling infestations is using integrated pest management which includes both monitoring and control strategies, including mating disruption dispensers, and then using chemicals as a last resort.
A reliable, automated pest monitoring system is a lower-cost alternative to time-consuming manual checks. The new system called MothNet will be able to pinpoint local outbreaks which can then be treated appropriately. Farmers will be able to reduce yield losses and reduce unnecessary pesticide use which means greater profit and environmental sustainability.
The MothNet project is led by Agsenze in collaboration with International Pheromone Systems (IPS) - developers and manufacturers of trap and pheromone products. MothNet is developing a longer-lasting lure and an innovative way to support remote monitoring that uses the moth’s unique wing beat vibration signature to distinguish the moth from other flying insects. Together these innovations will greatly increase the precision and efficiency of integrated pest management within orchards.
Graeme Hartley, Managing Director of IPS, said: “The agricultural industry is rapidly moving towards a digital platform to deal with the growing demands of the world-wide population. With real-time information being paramount to greater improvements in productivity, sensors and IoT are at the forefront to bring this to fruition. With the industry focusing more on Integrated Pest Management, funding was available from Innovate UK for a digital project around identifying and real-time control of prominent pests to agriculture. We highlighted the Codling moth which is one of the 100 worst invasive alien species in the world and is the most destructive apple pest.
“The economic losses caused by codling moths are immeasurable. Our partner in this project is AgSenze who have innovative technology but lack expertise on pest management and end-user contacts. IPS is a market leading specialist with over 35 years’ experience in supplying pheromone traps used for monitoring the presence of insects but lacks expertise in IoT systems. Together we are building a monitoring system that attracts, traps, identifies and alerts the farmer in ‘real-time’ of a confirmed threat to their produce. We are delighted to be working with AgSenze and together there is a high motivation to bring this project to commercial reality. We are both very grateful for the funding and excited about MothNet.”
The codling moth is a major pest of fruit such as apples and pears. The eggs are laid on leaves or the surface of fruit and larvae hatch after 7 to 10 days. They bore into the core causing the fruit to be unsellable due to unsightly damage. To be successful, the sprays must be applied before the larvae burrow into the fruit so monitoring is crucial between petal fall and harvest. The threshold for spraying is typically five moths per trap in a week, so traps need checking regularly.
Attempts at remote monitoring have been largely unsuccessful. The main challenge is visually identifying the moth because it lands on the sticky board of the lure in different orientations, such as upside down, which makes identification often very difficult. This means image-based systems require checking by an operator. The need to change these traps every four weeks and manually monitor the catch means that UK growers currently face labour costs of up to £500 per hectare each year for the job.
MothNet is looking to provide a fully automated monitoring system with a longer-lasting lure that would require changing and checking only every three to four months, rather than every four weeks.
Heather Sanders, Director of Science at Agsenze, explains: “We have investigated new image-based approaches but have opted instead for using audio to identify the moths as they fly into the trap. We have shown that there are wingbeat audio features that enable us to distinguish between codling moth and other similar species. We have developed a prototype algorithm that is able to distinguish this automatically.”
Agsenze’s partner in the project, IPS, is developing a longer life lure that can remain active for up to four months without renewal.
Dr Sam Jones, Technical Director for IPS, explains: “In terms of lure performance, IPS has looked at developing formulations that are more stable and efficient alongside different polymers for the actual dispenser itself. When combined, this will give us a lure with a more consistent, sustained release.
“A successful outcome of this project will result in a concept for a new trapping system that enables greater automation of pest monitoring. The eventual system will be completely autonomous for three to four month stretches while providing real-time monitoring of moth populations in orchards and alerting growers to pest outbreaks.”
The field trial will be split between orchards in Winchester and Merseyside and will look to compare three different formulated lures to determine their attractiveness and longevity and also the accuracy of the wingbeat monitoring system and the trap design.
Agsenze is an agri-tech company developing Internet of Things devices to solve real world challenges. It is focused on creating innovations that can be retrofitted or incorporated into existing practices. By working closely with IPS the codling moth solution benefits from the company’s considerable knowledge. The intention is for IPS to bring the technology to market and distribute through its existing networks in Europe and potentially Australia and New Zealand.
Heather added: “We see great potential in using the signature wingbeat of other insects to develop monitoring systems for beneficial and pest species. Insect pollination is vital for fruit production so our technology would enable more effective integrated pest management that minimises environmental impacts.”
According to Dr Sam Jones, the pesticides used to control pests have negative impacts on beneficial insect populations such as pollinators. As such, growers are also likely to see yield benefits from improved pollination resulting from reduced pesticide usage. Over time, data combined with local environmental information can be aggregated to track and predict pest spread. Such information benefits the wider fruit industry, enabling more targeted pest management practices while further increasing productivity and reducing inputs.
Agsenze Ltd. specialises in the development of precision livestock farming tools. AgSenze has a track record of bringing innovative precision monitoring devices to commercialisation. The team has developed a range of devices featuring image, environmental and acoustic sensors to capture real-time data on livestock condition.
Wirral-based International Pheromone Systems offers a nature-based approach and specialist knowledge for natural and safe solutions to monitor and manage pests in agricultural and domestic environments.
The company’s highly skilled entomologists find solutions from nature itself. Together with universities, scientific partners and growers, the IPS team works to find natural solutions to help reduce pesticide use and support Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in agriculture, horticulture and forestry businesses.
A healthier, safer and more productive environment is achieved by using the natural behaviour of pests and finding the right pheromone combination and trapping solution specific to a particular species.