We were approached by an agricultural firm to develop a low-tech method for early detection of Phytophthora infestans in air and water. Phytophthora infestans is a common outdoor fungus that can cause blight disease in potato and tomato crops. Working closely with a multi-disciplinary team of farmers, engineers, plant pathologists and microbiologists the Spornado air and water sampler was conceived. The sampler is placed in the field trapping airborne and waterborne spores on specialized filters. These filters are then collected for PCR analysis for fungal pathogens that cause crop disease. With an established detection system in place to monitor the presence of this fungi in the environment around them, farmers now have the information to guide fungicide spraying when needed increasing yields and saving crops.
Since the initial trials in potato crops, testing for a wide array of fungal pathogens has been developed including Phytophthora infestans in tomato, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum in canola and ginseng, Fusarium graminearum in wheat and other grains, as well as Phakopsora pachyrhizi which causes soyabean rust.
The application of pesticide is often based on Decision Support Systems (DSS) which make predictions based on environmental factors such as the weather. Results of analysis of samples collected with the Spornado provide valuable information in combination with DSS for guiding fungicide application.