Fungicide has proven to be an effective weapon in the fight against sclerotinia in canola. And one way growers can ensure they get the best return on their fungicide investment is to spray the product only on fields that have the most to lose from the disease.
“If you have a good-looking crop, you want to protect the value of that crop,” says Warren Bills, business development manager at Bayer Digital Farming. Bayer’s Digital Farming team is taking its existing sprayer technology and using it to augment the performance of Proline fungicide to make sure the parts of fields with the highest yield potential are being protected from the disease.
It’s called Zone Spray, and it uses satellite imagery from Bayer’s satellite technology partners, to calculate the density of crop canopies on a field-by-field basis. Bayer chose sclerotinia in canola to test the technology as the disease thrives in areas with more lush vegetation. Also, canola has proven to respond well to a Proline application when the disease is present.
Satellite images are taken from mid to late June, when the canopy is closing but flowering has not begun. At this point, fields are at peak levels of vegetation and the system is able to evaluate individual fields within a pre-determined boundary. Once the fields have been mapped, the program uses a growth model to calculate an ideal window for fungicide application, and then identifies which parts of the fields have the highest biomass — in other words which areas are at highest risk for a sclerotinia outbreak.
Now the fun begins. Bayer has developed a field manager microsite on its website where users login to see their fields and management zones. Users simply turn on or off toggle switches to choose which areas to spray. That information is fed back into the GPS system on the grower’s sprayer and applied automatically. Once the completed map is loaded into the sprayer, the boom then switches on or off depending on the zones the user selected for fungicide application.
Bayer’s Digital Farming team began a very limited trial of this technology in 2015 to make sure it would work for farmers tackling sclerotinia stem rot infections. The team also ran disease trials to make sure its assumptions about the relationship between crop biomass, sclerotinia and return on investment were correct. In 2017, the team went out to more than 300 growers to test the technology on a broader scale. Initial feedback has been positive and early results show that spraying an area with higher biomass does give a higher return on investment.
“At this point we are still demonstrating it so we can get feedback from growers and fine tune how this will work,” says Bills. “We plan to get complete results in later this fall with detailed information on how the technology worked with an application of Proline to control sclerotinia in a precise, risk conscious manner. At that point we plan to put this technology in the hands of farmers, and those supporting them, to be implemented quickly and effectively,” he explains.
“The Bayer Digital Farming team is continually looking at ways of enhancing Bayer products to improve the performance and experience to advance the business of farming,” says Bills. “We are taking the best products and combining them with the latest technology in order for growers to get a better return on their investment.”