Drew Butler tracks pests in Monterey County, California, but since May he's also been a teacher of sorts. Butler is a Pest Control Adviser with Nutrien Ag Solutions and part of his job is tracking the diamondback moth in brassica crops in his part of the country. And while he's doing that, he's also taking pictures with new technology and helping teach a new system how to identify the pest in traps.
Butler's work is part of a new collaboration, announced today, between FMC and Nutrien Ag Solutions to launch the Arc farm intelligence platform in the United States. FMC announced the platform in May, noting work outside the country, but the two firms started their collaboration in the Salinas area of California. Why start here? And what does Arc farm intelligence bring to the agtech industry?
"When we started our conversations with Nutrien Ag Solutions, we asked 'where is pest pressure a big driver' your PCA's face?" says Kenny Johnson, North America precision ag market development lead, FMC. "The diamondback moth floated to the top. They needed better insights into the evolution of pest pressure to get better timing of appropriate sprays and better Integrated Pest Management."
The two companies started their work in May tracking those moths in brassica crops including Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. What is Arc Farm Intelligence bringing to PCAs, and potentially farmers across the country in the future? The platform is the first mobile platform to use predictive modeling based on real-time data to ensure use of the right tactics for control of key crop pests.
"What Arc Farm Intelligence does is helps one visualize trap data and provide a predictive aspect," Johnson says. "What were Nutrien PCAs doing in the past? They do a lot of scouting and that information is provided in annotated black and white spreadsheets, that never came to life."
Johnson explains that those tables on paper didn't make it easy to track a pest that might move from Salinas to Half Moon Bay to Watsonville to King City. "Arc Farm Intelligence helps one visualize the evolution of pest pressure over time," he says.
Nutrien PCA speaks
For Butler, scouting is an important part of his job helping farmers manage crops and maximize control efforts. That work involves checking pheromone traps to count moths. Those counts are then reported in those bland spreadsheets, but with the new FMC app he explains there's a big difference.
"This allows us to see on a map with a heat index how the pest pressure is advancing," he says. "We could see it before on a spreadsheet, but this is much easier to read."
As for that teaching Butler has been doing? The software, using a smart phone, can also "read" the number of diamondback moths in a trap, speeding those trap counts and reporting information to the cloud faster. As part of the initial trial since May, Butler has been taking those pictures with Arc Farm Intelligence, and doing a manual count, to help correlate the application to ground truth. Machine learning systems require a lot of data to help refine predictive algorithms, and Butler's pictures are part of that effort.
While the smart phone counts could eventually speed up his work, right now that's not happening because he's checking traps twice a week rather than once, which is standard. But he sees the value of those "heat maps" that can help predict pest movement. "What I like is that I get everybody else's data [through Arc] so I can see for instance there's a problem up the valley, and can see how it's moving," he says.
From May through mid-September 2020, the peak season for diamondback moths, Nutrien Ag Solutions PCAs and scouts will actively monitor insect traps throughout the Salinas Valley while FMC Arc farm intelligence will visualize that data on its proprietary mobile app. This can help PCAs and growers easily track progression of pest pressure, and ultimately predict it. FMC plans to refine and validate an advanced pest prediction model for diamondback moths based on current and historical data.
Collaboration and IPM
Managing pests using multiple tactics has long been the goal of California producers for specialty crops, but it's not always easy. A key is knowing pest pressure, so a farmer or consultant knows the best time to spray, or deploy beneficials or use other tactics on the farm. This software can help make that even easier, says Alejandro Del Pozo-Valdivia, entomologist and area IPM adviser for the University of California Extension Monterey County.
"We're going to have better IPM [with Arc farm intelligence]," he says. "We're going to have more information layers to make better decisions. I am so excited about this project. It's a way to manage so much information. Right now, we have drones, robots for weeding out the lettuce field, we're collecting so much data. Finally, we have two companies that are putting together their efforts."
He's optimistic because better data will help encourage growers to maximize their IPM efforts with improved decision-making information. "We'll have better decision-making tools that know population densities and models to predict how weather and pest movement is occurring," he says.
The Arc farm intelligence collaboration between FMC and Nutrien Ag Solutions is starting in California and shows the potential for deploying predictive tools in new ways. FMC is looking at other opportunities to deploy the technology in new ways for the future.
FMC's Johnson points to another benefit of this technology, which has application for the future nationwide – resistance management. "We want to keep as many tools in the toolbox [working] as possible," he says "That's the biggest opportunity in the market, to keep [existing] chemicals viable longer. That's good for Nutrien, for all retailers."
The diamondback moth is a good example of the need to keep tools viable, Johnson notes there are many generations of the moth in a season, keeping all the control tools viable is key. You can learn more at fmc.com and at nutrienagsolutions.com.