Experts at the University of Hertfordshire, in collaboration with Agri-tech Services, have created a web-based, real-time system for calculating when to use fungicides to control the growth of strawberry powdery mildew.

Strawberry powdery mildew is caused by the fungus Podosphaera aphanis, which attacks the leaves, flowers and fruit of strawberry plants, causing major yield loss.

In the UK, the disease can result in yield losses of between 20% and 70%. In 2016, powdery mildew was estimated have caused a 20% yield loss costing growers an estimated £56.8 million.

The system, which can be used on smartphones or computers, records humidity and temperature. It forecasts when the fungus is likely to grow and alerts the grower to high-risk periods when fungicide sprays are needed.

By using the system, the grower can control the disease using fewer fungicide applications, reducing the risk of yield loss and saving money. The average cost-benefit of the system in 2018 was £250/ha, with no detriment to the crop.

Dr. Avice Hall MBE, from the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “This useful tool can help strawberry growers better manage the use of fungicides. Risk of disease development is clearly visualized on screen and updated continually.

“It will allow them to control the disease throughout the season with fewer fungicide applications and record their fungicide use with ease from any device.

It will enable growers to be proactive, rather than reactive, which helps reduce the use of fungicides, decreases costs and reduces environmental impacts – thus delivering high-quality fruit to the consumer.

Agri-tech Services has been closely involved with the project, from proof-of-concept to recent validation work, funded by Ceres. The firm has licensed the technology from the University of Hertfordshire for commercial exploitation.

During the 2019 season, the system was validated on eight commercial sites throughout the UK.