The ultimate guide to crop disease and pest forecasting tools

There is a whole host of online tools and email alert services out there to help growers manage the threat of disease and pest damage throughout the growing season.

While no substitute for actively getting out and inspecting crops, these handy tools can offer expert advice and tips on when is best to wade in with a treatment.

Some provide growers with colourful, interactive maps and graphs, while others send out timely email bulletins with the latest analysis and data.

See also: 14 useful machinery, tractor and arable apps for 2016

All promise to help growers hit disease and pest infestations at the prime opportunity to protect yields and cut costs.

1. BlightCast

Potato plant leaves affected by blight

© Design Pics Inc/REX/Shutterstock

Syngenta’s BlightCast forecasting service gives growers and agronomists a five-day look ahead to help them prepare and cope with potato blight pressure.

How does it work?

BlightCast uses the existing recognised Smith Period five-day forecast as the primary information for the reports it generates.

This gets combined with a “New Criteria” forecast and a five-day spray application window forecast based on the grower’s local postcode.

The “New Criteria” forecast comes into play when temperatures are predicted to rise above 8C with more than 11 hours at 90% humidity. This is to improve forecasts with infections occurring earlier in the season at cooler temperatures with the more aggressive strains of the disease.

If these conditions are forecast to be present over the course of two consecutive days this will trigger a “blight period” warning, or a “near miss” where conditions occur, but for a shorter period than the 48-hour threshold.

How do you use it?

It does all the work for you; all you have to do is sign up for the free weekly emails and supply your name and postcode of the area you’d like to receive blight warnings and reports for.

Once the latest forecast is deposited in your email inbox, you’re presented with colourful grids showing the low, medium or high blight risk as an hourly breakdown for the coming five days.

Where to find it and how to sign up

Sign-up for the weekly email reports by emailing your name, company address and postcode, with the postcode of the area you want reports for if it’s different to your farm address, to cropmarketing.uk@syngenta.com.

For more information search “Syngenta BlightCast” online.

2. BlightWatch

The AHDB has it’s own potato blight service which now uses the recalculated Smith Period to indicate infection risk in more areas across the UK than ever before, helping growers to better manager the disease.

How does it work?

Blightwatch now covers the whole of the UK down to individual postcode level, just like Syngenta’s BlightCast service.

As new strains of blight are creeping in to more potato crops, the Smith Period prediction model has been recalibrated and this what is used to forecast disease risk.

If a local Met Office weather station sees two consecutive days with the minimum air temperature is at least 10ºC, and there’s a minimum of 11 hours with humidity at least 90%, a warning is triggered.

How do you use it?

Once you’ve registered for the service you’ll get daily email updates and optional SMS text message alerts if blight risks are identified in your selected area.

There’s no online tool to use, so all you have to do is take a look at the information that comes in to you email inbox and phone and use it to help keep your crops blight-free.

Where to find it and how to sign up

Go to the BlightWatch website for full details and disclaimers about the service. To sign up for the service you’ll will need to register via the Potato Council registration page.

3. Sclerotinia Outlook

This popular management tool for sclerotinia in oilseed rape has been jointly run by BASF and Adas for several years.

It’s designed to help growers and farm advisers assess the disease risk of a crop and optimise spray timing to combat infection.

How does it work?

Close-up of affect of sclerotiniaThe interactive map shows the potential for sclerotinia germination for the current day, rather than a short-range forecast.

An adapted Google map is colour-coded from green, indicating low disease risk, to red for the highest risk.

It uses years of data from BASF and Adas sclerotinia monitoring programmes, combined with local weather data and gives a warning based on the known conditions needed for the disease to germinate. This includes soil temperature and humidity at ground level.

How do you use it?

You can use the tool online for a UK-wide picture of sclerotinia risk or you can enter in your postcode to get a more localised view of the disease pressure.

Then, based on which colour your part of the map is for that day, you can decide if it’s time to get on the sprayer and apply a fungicide to oilseed rape crops to guard against sclerotinia infection. This also helps when deciding whether to go with a repeat application when the previous spray has run out of steam.

It may also help you to plan you rapeseed spraying priorities against other crops.

Where to find it and how to sign up

Go to BASF’s website and click on Sclerotinia Outlook in the “tools and services” box on the web page.

To see the disease risk near you and get emails with the latest advice for your area you’ll need to register your name, postcode and email address by clicking the “register” tab on the Sclerotinia Outlook page.

4. Spring beans downy mildew risk forecast

Bean plants affected by downy mildew

© Blackthorn Arable

This forecasting tool alerts spring bean growers when downy mildew is likely to appear in their pulse crops.

The service is co-ordinated by Fera under the CropMonitor service with input from the PGRO and aims to help growers minimise yield damage caused by downy mildew.

How does it work?

The risk of downy mildew infection is normally highest in cold and wet conditions, so this tool uses weather data collected for local automated recording stations dotted across the whole of England and Wales.

The amount of rainfall over the past six days and temperature over the past three days is compared with long-term averages expected at each of the monitoring locations.

Risk factors for the temperature and rainfall are combined and categorised into three infection risk levels, based on when downy mildew has appeared in monitored fields in recent seasons.

If the infection risk is “moderate” or “high”, it means downy mildew infection will be expected if the pathogen is present in your crop.

The webpage is updated with new risk information every three days.

How do you use it?

There’s no need to register or login to use this forecasting tool, just go to the website for all the latest risk information.

You’re greeted with a map of England and Wales divided into 15 brightly coloured sections, with a risk table sat alongside showing the most up-to-date downy mildew information for each area.

If your area of the map is flagged as “moderate” or “high” risk, it suggests conditions are right for downy mildew infection, assuming innoculum is already in the bean crop.

Where to find it and how to sign-up

To access the free tool, visit the CropMonitor website, click on the spring beans tab and go to the live monitoring page.

5. Sugar beet powdery mildew predictor

The BBRO’s predictor warns of the likely powdery mildew pressure in the forthcoming season’s crop and arms sugar beet growers with email updates and advice on how to control the disease.

How does it work?

It goes on the number of ground frosts seen in February and March and generates a prediction of disease pressure for the season ahead.

Put simply, the more ground frosts during that timeframe, the lower the risk of powdery mildew in that beet crop in late August.

How do you use it?

Once the ground frost data has been crunched, the powdery mildew prediction for the season ahead is emailed to registered beet growers in April.

Later on in the season, growers receive weekly email bulletins offering advice on spray timing and disease management from BBRO experts.

Where to find it and how to sign up

Growers who are registered with British Sugar’s online portal automatically get all the BBRO disease prediction information and advice.

To sign up for the portal, visit British Sugar’s website or search “British Sugar portal” online.

6. Sugar beet virus yellows predictor

Virus yellows in sugar beet

In many ways this is similar to the BBRO’s powdery mildew predictor, and is another simple tool for sugar beet growers to take advantage of this season.

It takes into account a whole range of factors to make an informed prediction of virus yellows infection in beet crops for the coming season to help growers manage the disease better.

How does it work?

The weather in January and February is taken into account, along with seed treatment usage and the aphid pressure in the previous year to forecast the incidence of virus yellows crop infection.

How do you use it?

The service will deposit timely bulletins into your email inbox to help you with crop disease management. Simply absorb the information, check your beet crop and make an informed decision.

Where to find it and how to sign up

Like the powdery mildew predictor, beet growers will need to be registered with British Sugar’s online portal to get the automatic email bulletins.

Go to British Sugar’s website or search “British Sugar portal” online to register.

Pest forecasting tools

1. BruchidCast

A stablemate of BlightCast on Syngenta’s website, BruchidCast was developed with the help of the PGRO and is designed to aid growers in getting the timing of insecticide applications spot on.

It provides users with a five-day advance warning of periods of peak pest activity by postcode area and suggests the best time to spray crops for bruchid beetle.

How does it work?

The service works for bean crops at the pod growth stage and looks at temperatures at this time of year to establish if crops are at risk of bruchid beetle attack.

If the temperature is measured at 20C or higher on two consecutive days, the tool sends out an email alerting growers to the high risk of pest attack.

The information includes a forecast of potential spraying opportunities to help growers identify when there is increasing risk of pest damage, and when it may be possible to tackle the pest problem.

How do you use it?

This is solely an email alert service, rather than an online tool, so once you’ve registered for updates, you will receive advance warnings of peak pest attack in your local area.

Reports will start coming into your email inbox around the start of May and depending on the risk and potential for spraying at the time, you can make a judgement call on making a pass with the sprayer.

Where to find it and how to sign up

Sign up for the weekly email reports by emailing your name, company address and postcode, with the postcode of the area you want reports for if it’s different to your farm address, to cropmarketing.uk@syngenta.com.

For more information, search “Syngenta BruchidCast” online.

2. Pollen beetle predictor

Bayer’s Pollen Beetle predictor forecasts the start, peaks and progress of pollen beetle migration into winter oilseed rape crops.

It serves as an early warning and reminder for growers and agronomists to get out in the field and check their crops for the pest, with the aim of cutting down monitoring time and avoiding unnecessary spraying.

How does it work?

Like many of the other forecasting tools out there, this predictor goes on local area temperature to estimate pest damage risk, but this one is based on a version of a proPlant tool widely used by growers and agronomists across Europe.

It presents the user with a spread of green, yellow and red pins tacked across three versions of an interactive map of the UK.

Map one tells you if pollen beetle migration has started in your area or if it is likely to start in the next few days. The second map tells you whether current conditions are likely to encourage pollen beetle migration, with the third showing the percentage completion of the pest’s migration locally.

Risk levels range from a pale green, meaning no migration is possible, through to red and pink pins which mark areas with intensive or optimum migration conditions.

How do you use it?

The tool is pretty simple and can be used on desktop computers or mobile devices. Simply go to the relevant page on Bayer’s website, move and zoom the map to find your area and click on the nearest pin to reveal the current pollen beetle pressure in your crop.

If map one says migration has begun, use the arrows to move on to the second map to help you decide if crops need checking and if an insecticide spray is needed. The third map updates you on the migration progress to give an indication of longer-tem risk.

As a disclaimer, Bayer warns that “accuracy cannot be guaranteed and this tool is not a substitute for rigorous fieldwalking in combination with advice from BASIS qualified persons.” Also take the spraying thresholds into account, which the AHDB changed in 2014 to be based on plant populations.

Where to find it and how to sign up

Go to the “tools and services” section of Bayer’s website, click on “agronomy online tools and services” and choose “Pollen beetle predictor”.

There’s no email alert service for this tool so it’s up to you to check it regularly.

3. AHDB Aphid News

Close-up of peach potato aphids

© Blackthorn Arable

Aphid attacks are often sporadic, making it difficult to time insecticide applications accurately to protect crops.

The AHDB Aphid News service is lead by Rothamsted Research scientists with Agrii, Frontier and Bayer as partners.

It provides weekly advisory alerts on regional aphid activity during peak times of the year, with the aim of assisting growers in picking the best moment to get a spray on.

How does it work?

A network of suction traps capture aphids in areas around the country, providing valuable data for assessing aphid risk on a regional basis.

Yellow water-pan traps are also deployed by Fera to assess aphid risk in potato crops at a local level.

All of the data collected by these regional traps is digested into a handy weekly newsletter, providing updates on various aphid species, such as peach-potato and grain aphids, and migration activity throughout the season.

How do you use it?

Once you register for the weekly emails, take a look at the newsletter when it arrives and use the information to help you decide if a spray is needed to guard against turnip yellows virus in oilseed rape and barley yellow dwarf virus in cereals.

The hope is that growers will use the information to rationalise insecticide use, better time treatments, reduce harm to beneficial insects and even lower the risk of selection for insecticide resistance.

Where to find it and how to sign up

Search “AHDB Aphid News” online or go to the “Pest management” section of the AHDB Cereal and Oilseeds website.

From there you can click a link to sign-up for the weekly emails or you can email subscriptions@hgca.ahdb.org.uk directly.