Drone Ag, the Northumberland-based agritech business has launched its Skippy Scout mobile phone app to pinpoint cereal diseases such as yellow rust and Septoria tritici at an early stage using drone imagery.

The company points out that a drone can fly in close proximity to a crop and take high-resolution, leaf-level images that can be sent to the user’s phone in real time. These images can then be used to identify the extent to which disease is affecting leaves.

“Spotting the signs of common diseases as early as possible has become increasingly important to controlling them promptly,” says Drone Ag founder Jack Wrangham. “A drone can scout a field and send images to a farmer’s mobile phone five times faster than conventional crop walking.

Mr Wrangham says farmers can share images of crops with their agronomists between visits. Robert Ord, agronomist for Berwick-based McCreath, Simpson and Prentice (MSP) which has invested in DroneAg, adds: “This technology gives me an accurate image of how crops are developing. Using Skippy Scout, or looking at images sent to me, I can identify disease before it becomes too established and protect crops earlier.”

“It is crucial for arable farmers to protect crops against a variety of foliar diseases,” continues Mr Wrangham. “Skippy Scout is a mobile app that farmers can download and use with almost any drone for just £30 per month.”

In addition to high resolution images, Drone Ag is also developing artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret drone images. AI will be integrated into Skippy Scout later this year and will use images to help identify and inform users of diseases. This will reduce the need for farmers to interpret images and reduce the time it takes to act accordingly. “This technology can revolutionise how farmers identify disease and has the potential to save acres of crops worldwide,” concludes Mr Wrangham.