Aphid Advisor crop-scouting app updated

The app now makes it easier for crowd-sourced data to help make decisions on whether to spray

There’s been an evolution over the past few years in the way Ontario’s soybean farmers view the sharing of data online, say developers of some just-released updates to the Ontario-based Aphid Advisor crop-scouting app.

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Field Crops Entomologist Tracey Baute says there are now fully updated versions for Apple and Android of the app, which uses a range of data provided by the user to compile a strategy of “don’t spray”, “spray”, or “wait and see” in response to aphid infestations.

Why it matters: Soybean aphid numbers are growing and an updated version of the Aphid Advisor app can help making decisions on management of the potential pest.

The app takes numbers of aphids, natural enemy numbers and population growth rates to determine if aphid populations will reach a threshold for an action such as an insecticide application.

“Back in 2011, it wasn’t really known exactly what collecting that data (about aphid counts from soybean producers) would be used for,” Baute explained. Researchers and app developers couldn’t tell producers for certain how the sharing of information would ultimately benefit the industry, since that level of sophistication hadn’t yet been built into the Aphid Advisor program.

Besides, the widespread use of “crowd-sourced” science was in its infancy; the general public – including farmers – hadn’t developed enough of an understanding of online information sharing to differentiate between what’s okay to share and what’s not okay to share. And their understanding of online information security was also almost non-existent.

Farmers have since dramatically improved their understanding of such concepts. Because of that, Baute says, the app’s administrators decided this time around to change to an information-sharing agreement built into app registration, with users asked to specifically opt out if they don’t want their aphid and predator counts shared. (Exact locations and names of farms/producers are not included.)

The original app had a map with graphs showing results of aphid counts in a producer’s vicinity. But it only included count numbers from app users who had specifically stated upon registration that they were comfortable with their information being shared to other app users. When asked how many had actually clicked on that permission button when they registered, Baute admitted it was “not very many, to be honest.”

“It’s tedious to include all the aphid counts and all the natural enemy counts,” she continued, “but I think (over the past six years) the farmers who have been using this app have come to realize it’s crucial to have those counts for us to be able to provide effective and accurate information that they can use to make decisions.” As a result, she believes switching to the “opt-out” information sharing model will be very beneficial. And she believes very few will opt out.

Aphids look like they will be an issue in some areas this year.

“Some fields are starting to see soybean aphids colonize in the last few weeks,” the OMAFRA entomologist reported in the June 28 edition of “Baute’s Bug Blog.” She advised at the time, however, that “yield is impacted once aphids reach 660 per plant,” and that producers should only be concerned when counts show 250 aphids per plant across 80 per cent of the field, with population clearly on the upward trend.

“We have had many fields in the past see aphid numbers rise to 300 and even 400 aphids per plant one week and drop down to below 250 the next, thanks to the help of the beneficials,” she wrote. “That is why it is important to not spray too early as the insecticide knocks back the beneficial population far longer and allows the aphids to rebound in their absence.”

The updated version of Aphid Advisor enhances producers’ ability to quantify predator numbers, thereby potentially decreasing the number of times in the future they’ll call in the sprayer.

“Never would we push people past the economic injury level. But this update allows us to give producers the information they need to be comfortable with a decision not to go into the field yet,” she said.

The new version also includes new photos of the different growth stages of the soybean plant, thereby giving producers who need to resort to chemical control the information they need to know exactly when to go in and spray.

Aphid Advisor is available free at www.aphidapp.com.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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