In the third episode of #GrowEasyChat, our Farm Operations Manager (Rachael Warner) discusses how to identify and prevent pests and disease in your indoor farm.

Q1. How does an unbalance in the Plant Disease Triangle contribute to pests and disease?

A1. Plants have a variety of mechanisms to defend themselves against attack from foreign bodies, similar to the human immune system. The disease triangle exhibits the only possible way for a plant to become diseased is related to its susceptibility, the presence of a pathogen and unfavorable environment for the plant. In an unfavorable environment, the overall susceptibility of a plant to becoming diseased is increased. Further, if the environment promotes the growth of a pathogen it further increases the ability of disease to take hold.

Q2. Knowing that it is possible for pests to move into a farm at any time, what strategies do you recommend to continually monitor crop health?

A2. This begins with their actions before entering the farm. A serious commitment to biosecurity should be made by each person entering the farm, preventing the potential for pests to be brought in. It is important to encourage all members of a growing team to be attentive to crop health throughout their time in the farm.

Q3. When monitoring crop health day-to-day, what signs of pests or disease should growers be looking for?

A3. Any changes in the overall appearance of the crops should be noted. Early indicators include changes in turgor and crop colors. Also the presence of pest residue, such as honeydew are an indirect indicator of pests.

Q4. What traditional tools are available to growers to identify and combat the threat of pests and disease?

A4. There are a variety of tools commonly used in greenhouses to manage pests. One of the most common are sticky traps. Their yellow color attracts pests and captures them. These provide an advantage by attracting and capturing pests, allowing for earlier detection as pests can be very elusive in plant canopies, especially at low population densities.

Q5. Seen as a significant advancement in overall crop management, what role does machine vision play in pest and disease detection?

A5. Machine vision and its integration with AI allows for crops to be continually monitored by various cameras installed in farms. With training, these programs can detect the presence of pests on leaves or sticky cards, or simply note changes in leaves such as lesions or changes in color. Many of these technologies have the capability to detect changes in crop health before the human eye can, making them a highly advantageous tool for a team.

Q6. What are some pesticide-free solutions for preventing extensive crop loss from pests and/or disease?

A6. An additional benefit of closed environments is the potential to utilize predatory insects in an efficient manner. Predatory insects can be brought into the farm and kill various pests. Many are pest dependent so it is important to ensure the right predators are brought in. Also, early detection is ideal for the control of pests using predatory insects.