Novel tools and technologies can support IPM in Europe

The C-IPM workshop in Paris on novel and innovative tools and technologies in relation to IPM produced a fruitful discussion and gave input for coming calls and strategies.

New technology can help boost integrated pest management. Photo: Aarhus University

The ERA-Net C-IPM organised a one-day workshop in Paris on 15 June 2015. The workshop had a specific focus on novel and innovative IPM tools and technologies. The objectives of the workshop were to share knowledge,

map existing initiatives on novel technologies,anddiscuss to what extent novel technologies can help implement IPM strategies across Europe.

- The input from this meeting can also be considered when putting together the next call from C-IPM and the strategic research plan, which will be looking forward past the end of C-IPM, said Antoine Messéan, C-IPM coordinator.

Approximately 57 participants from 20 different countries in Europe attended the workshop. Approximately half of the participants were researchers while the other half came from funding bodies.

The workshop began with a series of talks. These were followed up by a world café, in which all the participants had the opportunity to discuss the three topics mentioned below. The topics covered the role of robot technologies to boost IPM, innovative and user-friendly technologies for pest detection and monitoring, and advanced biotechnologies to breed resistant and/or tolerant plants.

Proof-of-concept necessary to get things implemented.

At the end of the day, the general consensus of the workshop participants was that new tools and technologies have the potential to support IPM. Farmers are usually open to new ideas and technologies, but proof-of-concept is necessary for new technologies to be adopted successfully. It is also important to keep in mind that technology that is destined for application by farmers must be sophisticated but at the same time be cost-effective, simple, and easy to understand and use.

The general public can in some cases be against new technologies. An example of this is the public attitude towards GMO. Legislation and approval can also be an issue and stand in the way of some types of new technology.

Robot technology can boost IPM

Ard Nieuwenhuizen from the Dutch company Probotiq, which specialises in intelligent control systems for agriculture and landscaping, spoke about the first of the topics, namely "The role of robotic technologies to boost IPM".

- Robotics and autonomy can boost agriculture by replacing labour-intensive tasks and carrying out tasks and applications in a timely manner, Ard Nieuwenhuizen said. It is advantageous if the robots can work autonomously and intelligently.

An example is in the area of weed control. Large farms no longer have enough labour available for mechanical weed control and therefore tend to use chemical control. This leads to problems with pesticide resistance. A solution can be large-scale autonomous robots that drive at night. This provides timely application independent of available labour.

Robotics can also be applied for a number of other tasks, such as collecting air samples from traps (e.g. for collection of spores), monitoring growth, crop health, weeds, insect traps and catch plates, weeding, precision spraying and autonomous soil sampling, to name but a few.

Important drivers for adopting robotics in agriculture are the farmer’s bottom line and proof that the technologies work. The systems must be easy, efficient and cost-effective. It is important to include proof-of-concept such as practical cases and demonstration farms.

While it is important that researchers and advisors have knowledge of the new technologies, the importance of sharing this knowledge with farmers must not be overlooked. Robotics can promote IPM by, for example, giving the farmer more time to monitor his crops. Another example of how robotics can promote IPM is that robotic weeding can reduce the need for applying pesticides.

Innovative and user-friendly pest detection and monitoring

The second topic at the workshop, "Innovative and user-friendly technologies for pest detection and monitoring", was presented by Jean-Yves Rasplus from the research institute INRA in France. He described an integrative, pangenomic approach to better characterise species complexes using a specific kind of DNA-sequencing called RAD-sequencing in order to overcome the challenge of species complexity in pests.

This technology enables sequencing of species with small population sizes and is very reliable. It also makes it possible to find biomarkers for traits that can be used for biological control and provides better prediction of invasive pest problems if, for example, a foreign pest is introduced to Europe.

Pest control entails efforts at three levels: prevention, monitoring and taking measures. There are many systems that can be applied at these stages. However, interactions between plants, soil and pests are complex, so the systems need to be sophisticated. At the same time, the systems must be simple to understand and use – and humans are still needed to make the decisions.

Breeding robust plants

The third topic to be covered at the workshop was "Advanced biotechnologies to breed resistant and/or tolerant plants" and was introduced by Mark Tepfer from INRA, France. He described how it is possible to confer resistance to a plant against, for example, a virus, using RNAi, which is a tool for introducing RNA degradation. The technique can also be used to introduce resistance to nematodes, insects, fungi, parasites and bacteria in various crops. A crop can even have a whole array of resistances.

- The potential health benefits are enormous and could lead to major reductions in pesticide use but there are limitations, Mark Tepfer pointed out. Most of the studies are still at the proof-of-concept stage and may not prove sufficiently efficient in the field. In addition, the cost of going through regulatory processes is high. A third potential stumbling block is the question of whether the public will accept this new technology.

- It might be possible to modify genes to breed crops that are resistant to pests and pathogens. These are not transgenic, but would people consider them GMO, Mark Tepfer asked.

The workshop participants agreed that field trials for proof-of-concept are important and that communication plays an important role in getting the public to understand and accept new biotechnology concepts.

Public funding of research can promote the diversification of the tools and genomics being developed. Public funding can also assist in removing the science from the monopolies of large, private companies and could thus improve public opinion. However, legislation and approval of new biotechnologies can still prove to be tricky.

The full report from the workshop can be read here.

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