Plant Aid: Big-Data Project Detects Plant Diseases Faster

Early detection of disease is critical for reducing its impact – that’s as true for plants as it is for people. And early detection of crop diseases can make or break a farmer’s growing season.

That’s why an interdisciplinary team of researchers at NC State is setting out to combine small sensors with big data to detect diseases plaguing tomato fields.

“We’re developing these sensors that will be deployed in the field and using smartphones and Wi-Fi technology, we will detect diseases pre-symptomatically in fields and then relay the data back into a database,” said Jean Ristaino, NC State scientist and team lead. “The plan is to build an integrated database, called the Plant-Aid database, to detect plant diseases on tomatoes.

Ultimately we want to use these sensors to mitigate disease outbreaks and prevent epidemics from developing in the field.”

The team will combine cost-effective, in-field sensors with geospatial analytics and a cloud-based database of plant stresses – including pests, pathogens and environmental stresses. The Plant-Aid database will then alert farmers about the cause of the stress and suggest possible mitigation strategies – all before symptoms are visible to the naked eye.

The project is one of four interdisciplinary projects identified by the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI) to receive seed funding to address the global challenges facing agriculture.