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Social site assists in disease detection

Snapshot from Twitter

Social media, particularly Twitter, has gained traction in farm country. Now it’s being used to help farmers prevent disease, protect yields and save money.

AUDIO: Carl Bradley, University of Kentucky Research and Education Center

A recent study asked growers to “Scout, Snap and Share” images of disease spotted in fields, in an effort to examine the usefulness and feasibility of social media as a method of disease and pest data sharing among crop scouts, industry agronomists and university extension.

Researchers from Iowa State University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Kentucky asked participants to track the appearance of disease in corn and soybean fields, share images to @corndisease or @soydisease, as well as include the state and county of observation.

Dr. Carl Bradley, professor of plant pathology and Extension specialist at the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center, assisted with the study, by managing the corn disease Twitter account. Bradley says corn growers were better able to track destructive diseases, such as Southern Rust, during the study’s observation period.

“Like a lot of Rust diseases, Southern Rust generally starts down in the United States. Then as weather systems move northward, it moves the disease northward during the growing season. That’s a disease we’re able to track and get an idea of when it might come into the Corn Belt,” Bradley said.

Researchers collected data from Twitter and posted it to the iPipe system, providing growers a better visualization as to where the disease (Southern Rust) resides. Bradley says the iPipe maps helps growers make more informed decisions throughout the growing season.

“We ended up finding Southern Rust in a big portion of the U.S. last year,” Bradley said. “In some cases, Southern Rust showed up kind of late, so it wouldn’t have been worth spraying a fungicide. In those cases, I think we help save growers money where maybe they don’t need to apply a fungicide. In other cases, it showed up a little earlier than expected and that gave some of the growers an early warning that they may need to consider spraying a fungicide to protect their crops.”

Bradley notes most corn hybrids lack resistance to Southern Rust. He says the only way to approach the disease is by spraying a foliar fungicide application, which can prevent considerable yield loss.