ASEAN FAW Action Plan project associate, Randolph Candano, interviews Gideon Aries Burgonio to find out more about monitoring efforts and the use of drones for fall armyworm (FAW) control in the Philippines.
Gideon is a researcher and entomologist working at the National Crop Protection Center, College of Agriculture and Food Science, University of the Philippines Los Baños. He researches the application of modern technologies for site-specific pest management and investigates ways to introduce, and scale up these crop protection approaches in farming communities.
What are you currently working on?
My specific work mainly addresses when and where FAW infestation is likely to appear and how to best monitor for FAW. We are currently developing spatial and temporal models to forecast and assess risks of FAW occurrence in the locality.
We are also trying to develop a FAW pheromone blend that is specific to the Philippine population of FAW. And, we are looking into the application of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) remote sensing for detecting, monitoring, and assessing FAW damage in corn. A UAV is commonly known as a drone. I also work on remote sensing of Spodoptera exigua (onion armyworm) on onion and on dynamic modelling of some major pests of other high-value crops.
How can drones be used for managing FAW?
Drones mounted with multispectral sensors can be a powerful tool in detecting,
monitoring, and assessing biotic and abiotic stresses in crops. For example, when FAW causes physical damage to the corn this can be detected through low altitude remote sensing. In one of our studies, initial findings showed that corn with a high FAW damage rating (manually rated using Davis’ scale) had significantly lower vegetation index values compared to corn with a lower rating. Also, the canopy cover of severely damaged corn is significantly lower than the canopy cover of corn with less damage. Different methodologies can, therefore, be applied to assess FAW damage in the field. The use of drones for pesticide applications also offers great potential.
Do you think drones can help farmers better control FAW and other pests?
The greater precision and efficiency of drones can definitely improve how farmers approach pest management. As drones can significantly reduce the time spent by the farmer in the field, their use can also open up more opportunities for farmers to engage in other endeavours which can help support more sustainable livelihoods.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using drones in IPM?
The use of drones can improve productivity. For example, drone spraying is more efficient than conventional pesticide applications as drones can cover a greater area in less time and with the use of fewer resources such as pesticides, water, and manpower. Coupled with remote sensing, drone sprayers can also target specific patches that have symptoms, reducing unnecessary pesticide use.
Surveillance by remote sensing technology using drones is also more objective than manual monitoring and surveillance, which relies on human skill and experience because the sensors and algorithms produce unbiassed and consistent data.
Another positive is that new technologies like drones can also entice younger generations to engage in farming. However, while drone spraying is relatively easy to become skilled at, drones with remote sensing applications do require more technical knowledge, training, and hours of practice.
A technical limitation in the field is that crop health-monitoring drones need sunlight and zero precipitation during operation. The cost can also be a barrier to their use. Using agricultural drones can require a big investment. This can range from 7,000 USD for a basic multispectral drone, not including the cost of the operator, to as much as 40,000 USD for a full setup advanced multispectral drone with a trained operator, a high-powered computer system and image processing software. In the beginning, therefore, this technology will mostly be provided by the government, the private sector, and some progressive cooperatives who have the financial ability to invest in these new approaches.
What do you think would help farmers to control FAW and other plant pests and diseases?
For FAW and other invasive pests, the first management practices that would be
recommended could be foreign and may not be fully engrained immediately in our farmers’ culture. That’s why I think that it is right that the government should be
proactive in its campaigns against these types of pests. It is also imperative that pest management programs are holistic and up to date, taking into consideration the potential of local biological control agents, cultural practices, and modern technology.
What impact is COVID having on your work?
Community quarantine measures do prevent us from gathering data in the field. But from a positive perspective, I think the restrictions in our physical movement have also paved the way for more IPM knowledge to be generated and spread digitally. This knowledge has now become even more accessible to farmers anytime and anywhere. Browse through the Facebook and YouTube accounts of government and private agriculture agencies/companies and you will find at least one webinar that tackles crop protection.