ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Finally, a good excuse to spend time on Twitter!
University Extension scientists are hoping to harness the power of farmers on Twitter to track the spread of corn and soybean diseases this summer.
Led by Iowa State University plant pathologist Daren Mueller, the tweet campaign is the first step in a larger effort to better identify and track agricultural diseases. A crowdsourcing website is under construction to create a place where growers can report and identify diseases, and scientists hope to use disease tweets to create real-time maps of diseases in the field.
The ultimate goal is a predictive service for the spread of crop diseases much like the weather forecasting industry, Mueller said. The project is funded by iPIPE, the Integrated Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education.
For now, Mueller and his colleagues are urging growers to whip out those smartphones in the field during scouting trips this summer.
Two Twitter handles have been created for the campaign. Growers should direct their disease tweets to either @corndisease or @soydisease, and they can follow those accounts to see what diseases are being tweeted.
When you find disease symptoms in your field, take a close-up picture. Then compose a tweet that includes the corn or soybean disease handle, the county and state your field is in, and the disease you believe you've found.
"The goal is for this to become a normal thing to do while scouting," Mueller told DTN. "If we get enough information, modelers could use it to develop some predictions."
Mueller and his IPM team will sort through the soybean disease tweets and University of Kentucky plant pathologist Carl Bradley will curate the corn disease ones. The scientists will use the tweets to create maps of diseases moving across the country, county by county.
The picture quality will be important, Bradley noted. "It won't be error-free," he said of the campaign. "We can't always give 100% accurate diagnosis with a picture, but with a good picture, we can usually tell the difference between gray leaf spot, northern corn leaf blight and southern rust on corn, for example."
The Twitter disease campaign will probably be most useful for rust diseases that spread quickly, such as soybean rust and southern corn rust, the plant pathologists noted.
Both diseases are of particular concern this year. Soybean rust has moved north early this spring, and conditions are favorable for the disease to thrive this year.
Southern corn rust especially would benefit from real-time tracking, Bradley said. Most hybrids are susceptible to it, and the disease has gotten an earlier start than usual the past few years, which permitted it to infest fields as far north as Illinois in 2015.
"Rust diseases like southern corn rust and soybean rust blow in from the South, so if we know what's going on to south of us, it gives us a heads up," Bradley said.
Bradley hopes the disease tweets could also alert growers to the presence of certain diseases in their area, and spur them to scout and manage diseases they might not have noticed otherwise.
Work is still ongoing for a crowdsourced website for disease tracking and identification, which will allow growers to upload and identify disease pictures from their own fields and keep tabs on the spread of diseases around the country.
So as soon as those crops get out of the ground, start scouting and tweeting. "The more information we get, the better this will work," Mueller said.
For more information on the iPIPE program behind this campaign, see the website here: http://ed.ipipe.org.
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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