Crops diseases can decrease, not only yield but also the quality of sugar beets, reducing the price farmers can get. Drone technology and analyses can rapidly and accurately estimate crop damage caused by plant diseases to inform further management decisions intended to reduce their negative effect.
Sugar beet production in the USA
According to the USDA, 1.138 million acres of sugar beet was planted in 2020. It is grown in the temperate regions of the USA: in the Upper Midwest, Great Plains, and the Far West. The latter has the best yields, but also the highest investment.
Beets are grown on contract to cooperatives that run sugar processing plants. The quality of sugar beet is crucial for setting the price and it is judged by its percentage of sugar (sucrose in particular). Usually, this varies between 12-20%, and the average is 16%.
Evidently, farmers must maintain not only yield but also quality to ensure optimal ROI.
Crops diseases cause major production challenges
A USDA report indicates that, in 2019, the average sugar beet yield per acre was 29.2 tonnes/acre.
According to a survey that covered 28% of the acreage under sugar beets, crops diseases showed to be the main cultivation challenges that sugar beet growers faced in 2019 in Minnesota and North Dakota. The main problems were soil-borne and foliar diseases:
- 27% of the farm suffered from Cercospora Leaf Spot (CLS).
- 26% of the farmers reported Rhizoctonia root and crown rot
Though these are the two most common plant diseases, several others can also infect sugar beets. Crop diseases can plague sugar beet crops from the seedling to storage stages, with some of the more important ones being:
- Seedlings diseases: Damping-off due to Aphanomyces and Rhizoctonia.
- Root Diseases: Fusarium yellows caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. Sp.betae and Fusarium yellowing decline by secorum. Also, Rhizoctonia crown and root rot, and Rhizomania or crazy rot caused by the yellow vein virus.
- Foliar Diseases: Cercospora leaf spot (CLS) caused by the fungus Cercospora beticola is the most damaging disease in sugar beet in the USA. Bacterial leaf spot and Alternaria leaf spot can also occur but are not very common or severe.
- Storage diseases: Phoma betea that causes seedling blight, leaf spot, root and crown rot, continues to affect the tubers after harvest and is one of the main causes of storage beet losses. An excessive decrease in sugar content of roots can be controlled if this disease is prevented.
Losses due to crops diseases
Reduction in yield prompted by plant diseases can cause a major loss of revenue for producers. Usually, one ton of sugar beet with 16% sugar content will give 130 kg of sugar.
Diseases reduce the tonnage of beets and sugar content. CLS can reduce profits, even when the quantity of yield is not reduced.
In 2016, the Min-Dak growing region lost $375/acre due to a 1-2% fall in recoverable sugar, since farmers skipped one application of fungicide for CLS. For the whole region, the loss amounted to $43 million. CLS was responsible for a reduction in revenue of up to 50% in 2016.
On the other hand, many of the microbes that cause foliar diseases of sugar beet – Cercospora leaf spot, powdery mildew, and virus yellows – have developed resistance to the chemicals used to control them. It became evident that using existing formulations can’t control their damage to the crop.
Hence, using treatments too often leads to the development of resistance and tolerance in the microbes, making plant disease control less effective and more expensive.
How to control plant diseases
Sugar beet is planted in April and harvested in fall. The best strategy to prevent or decrease CLS, the major disease in sugar beet, is field selection, the use of CLS-resistant varieties, scouting, and timely application of fungicide at recommended intervals. A similar approach can also be recommended for preventing other crops diseases.
June to July, when growing crops close rows, is the latest time to start scouting for early indication of crop diseases. CLS occurs when humidity and temperatures are high. During these weather conditions, scouting and application of sprays are necessary.
The first application of sprays should be when the weather is conducive for the disease or at first appearance. If the chance to apply early treatment is missed, it is difficult to control a plant disease later on.
How does scouting help?
For an effective treatment, timely and correct identification of plant diseases is crucial. So is finding the extent of infestation in the field.
Scouting is the practice of checking the fields regularly to monitor crop growth and health. Since sugar beets are susceptible to diseases from the seedling stage, start the checks for disease symptoms once seedlings have emerged – two weeks after sowing.
Traditionally, scouting was performed by people, either the farmer or on contract. While detecting symptoms is possible, judging the extent of area or crop that has been affected is difficult for people.
When fields do not suffer from a crop disease, scouting helps a farmer to decide whether they can forgo chemical applications, thereby saving costs and preventing the development of resistance.
In any case, the new drone technology is a far better choice for scouting than manual observation. By using drones for scouting, farmers will:
- Save time and personnel costs in crop walking
- Minimize crop disturbance
- Have more accurate data
- Have a historic perspective of the field conditions
Manual scouting is subjective and it differs from person to person. Furthermore, it is especially challenging when it includes working with third-party contractors.
Drone technology can increase profits
Using drones to scout farms is a part of a new kind of farming called precision agriculture which can be applied to existing farms. It differs from traditional farming in one extra step: the collection of detailed and precise information about the farm and the condition of the crops. Drones can be used not only for finding diseases but other kinds of stress and crop stand.
In the case of sugar beet, a farmer can improve their disease management decisions based on the analysis of the information collected by the drone.
- Decide based on accurate data when to apply the treatment. Timely intervention can save crops before they are endangered.
- Find out which part of the farm needs to be sprayed. The drone shows the exact location of affected plants so that you can use resources more effectively.
- Determine how much fungicide is necessary and how much it would cost. Use optimum amounts of input – neither too much nor too little.
- Improve sugar beet yield and quality to get premium prices.
So how can a farmer use drone technology on their farms? It sounds more difficult than it is, but there are services and people who take care of the individual steps involved.
How to apply drone technology
Agremo provides software for plant disease analysis to apply drone technology for several crops, including sugar beet.
Agremo software plant disease analyses help a farmer to:
- Identify the precise location and size of problem areas.
- Optimize treatments and preventive measures (fungicide, insecticide, etc.).
- Spot diseases before they affect the current yield goal.
The ideal time to monitor sugar beet crops is during the entire growth cycle (early, mid, and late seasons) as a part of the overall crop health monitoring process.
To use Agremo services, a farmer needs to get a map of their field. First, engage a drone operator to take high-resolution pictures of the farm and then “stitch the photos” together to provide a map of the whole farm.
The map can then be uploaded to the Agremo website for analysis. We send results within 48 hours so that you can quickly identify your problem and make a decision.
Agremo Disease Detection Analyses identify the percentage and the exact location of plant diseases caused by viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Agremo closely examines plants by analyzing various factors, such as the changes in the color index, shape, or the percentage of missing leaves.
You can also trust Agremo’s : they are conducted in close cooperation with professional agronomists to ensure that the data collected is converted into relevant and actionable reports.
Benefits for society and environment
Crops disease and pest control are key management aspects for producers in all US regions. By minimizing inputs and concentrating on spraying only affected farm areas, drone technology increases ROI and reduces the risk of chemical runoff or leaching into water sources. As a result, the impact on plants and animals near the farm, as well as further away is also reduced. Moreover, the effects of nutrition pollution on people are also diminished.