UV – ROBOT – Innovative UV-robotics to improve existing IPM strategies and to benefit farmers, consumers and the environment (Interreg North-West Europe)

An important disease in many crops is mildew. Current horticultural practices rely on intensive pesticide use to counter it. However, the use of chemical crop protection results in spray residues on the harvested product and mildew infections cannot always be prevented. Scientific research showed that UV-C light has the potential to become a sustainable alternative for chemical mildew control. The application of UV-C still need to be optimized and automation is required to allow introduction in horticulture. UV-ROBOT will try to tackle these issues and has three main goals:

  • Develop robots for autonomous mildew control
  • Integrate UV-C in current IPM strategies
  • Implement the innovation by growers

In the course of the project we will develop, test and demonstrate cost-effective UV-C robots to control mildew in three types of crops:

  • Spherical: strawberry
  • Vertical: tomato and cucumber
  • Horizontal: lettuce and basil

Horticultural experts in Belgium and the UK will together find ways to incorporate UV-C in current IPM (Integrated Pest Management) strategies of each crop. Belgian expertise in automation and French expertise in data analysis will jointly develop innovative robots that can autonomously apply UV-C. On top, the co-creation of innovative sensors for automatic mildew monitoring by a UK partner specialized in e-nose development will reduce the farmers’ workload and ensure tight disease control.

At the end of the project the developed robots will be available for growers with a user-friendly interface and a crop specific implementation strategy. Demonstration across the NWE region and extensive communication during and after the project will inform growers to ensure innovation roll-out. We hereby aim to lower growers’ dependence on chemical crop protection and thereby reduce pesticide use and spray residues in horticulture across North-West Europe.

Three weeks ago, the last UV-C treatment was given in the cucumber trials of the project. The last trial served as a demonstration and validation, focusing on the effectiveness of UV in treating powdery mildew. Two varieties were tested, Dee Viate (DV) and Sepalin (SP), both with 50 J/m² UV (UV) and without (CC). Additionally, objects were added for Dee Viate; one where UV was combined with a preventive biological treatment (BUV) and another where a reduced amount of UV was given on darker days (VUV) (refer to graph in title).

The research showed even better results compared to previous trials. During the first six weeks of treatment (phase 1), the powdery mildew infection was more severe in objects without UV, despite the application of chemical treatments once a week. In the next five weeks (phase 2), the chemical treatments managed to slightly control the mildew pressure better than the UV treatments. However, during these five weeks, again, four applications of chemical products had to be executed, whereas during the whole cultivation, no treatments – biological or chemical – were used in the object with UV. Combining UV with a preventive biological fungicide (BUV) improved the effectiveness even a bit more. Utilizing lower doses on days with lower solar radiation resulted in a higher infection rate. The object with lower doses (VUV) shows nice effectiveness, but the continuous dose of 50 J/m² still controls powdery mildew better

Against expectations, the production was better in the objects with UV in this trial. Especially for Dee Viate, the difference was quite clear (22% more). In previous experiments, UV had a slight negative effect on the plants, causing phytotoxicity and resulting in lower production. This effect seemed to be more severe during darker periods. However, in this trial, the planting date was the end of January; the cultivation did not receive a lot of solar light, and it might be possible that UV light was received as an extra light boost by the plants. It would also explain why Dee Viate, a summer variety that needs more light, shows a stronger advantage with UV than Sepalin.

This validation trial demonstrates that we can effectively control powdery mildew on cucumber plants through a combination of 1) a three-night treatment with UVC light at a dosage of 50J/m², 2) limited application of biological chemicals, 3) using a resistant variety, and 4) applying chemical correction when facing higher powdery mildew pressure.

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