Digital agronomy app aims to detect crop diseases

A team at Newcastle University is developing a digital agronomy system for sustainable management of crops.

The Spot-On Agri-Diagnostics tool is based on cost-effective single multi-tests (multiplexed lateral flow assays) coupled with a smartphone App. These tests, which resemble pregnancy tests, allow instant detection of multiple diseases at the same time.


It has been developed to help deal with two of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: population growth and climate change. The solution – increase food productivity alongside food and energy sustainability – seems easy. Unfortunately achieving this is not so simple.


Yields are affected by both biotic (plant damage or diseases caused by pests such as nematodes, insect herbivores, and pathogenic microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, or fungi) and abiotic, or environmental factors (including drought, nutrient scarcity, or extreme temperatures). Biotic and abiotic factors can result in crop losses ranging from 25-40%  or reduction in market quality (e.g. aesthetics or contamination).


Agrochemicals are often used to avoid crop loss due to pests and disease, but if overused they can be harmful to both the environment and human health, and also drive resistance. Additionally, many actives have been withdrawn.


The Spot-On agri-diagnostics tool will enable precise application and point-of-need use, cutting agrochemical usage. The current focus is potato viruses, but the system can be expanded to suit horticulture, cereals and ornamentals.


It has been developed as a component of Newcastle University’s Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) course, in which teams investigate the market potential of commercially promising ideas. ICURe enables idea testing and market discovery activities, including conversations with a wide range of stakeholders.


The team developing Spot-On would like to explore the practicalities of using it in a practical environment, and are therefore interested in feedback, insights, and opinions from growers, breeders, agronomists, associations, plant clinics, food processors, and authorities. Anyone can register their interests in getting involved to discuss the Spot-On concept, further development and potential application.


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