The first step towards automated and fungicide-free disease control has arrived!
This coming growing season NIAB EMR will host a unique robot designed to assist strawberry growers with fungicide-free powdery mildew control. Built by Octonion, the robot will be travelling autonomously throughout a demonstration polytunnel at East Malling, diligently taking care of the strawberry plants growing within. The robot is fully automated and operates during the night, traveling independently up and down throughout the crop and delivering short bursts of UV light to table-top strawberries.
This UV application is able to provide disease control through disrupting the DNA of the fungus that causes powdery mildew. Under daylight conditions the fungus has a strategy to prevent long lasting DNA damage – it uses a light-mediated molecular mechanism to repair its DNA. However, when the UV light treatment is undertaken in the dark, the fungus’ DNA recovery mechanism cannot function, leading to death of the fungus and the protection of the crop.
UV light has been shown to be highly effective at controlling powdery mildew on strawberry.
The amount of UV light required for effective disease control has been carefully calibrated to ensure that the dosage of UV light controls the fungus, whilst being well below the rate that could cause a negative impact on the crop. The UV dosage optimisation trials on strawberries have been conducted at the Research Centre Hoogstraten. These trials have shown that 3 applications of UV light (110 J/m2) a week can be enough to reduce strawberry powdery mildew infection by 80 percent.
When combined with integrated pest management (IPM) strategies, the application of UV light could provide an environmentally-friendly solution for strawberry disease control and help to reduce our reliance on fungicide-based control strategies.
At Fruit Focus 2021 (21 July), NIAB EMR will provide a first opportunity for growers to see this fantastic and potentially game-changing UV- robot in operation, meet the sciences and developers responsible and ask questions about this new technology.