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ITI and COARVAL are working with Artificial Intelligence technologies to control pests in the agricultural sector.

The Valencian Community is known for its extensive citrus fields, such as the orange groves that perfume the city with their sweet and distinctive fragrance. It also stands out for its production of persimmons, being a leader in the European market. However, the Valencian agricultural sector faces new challenges every year that threaten its crops.

The whitefly, a tiny, voracious insect that is difficult to control, is one of the main concerns of Valencian farmers. According to the Valencian Association of Farmers (AVA – Asaja), it is the most alarming pest at this time of the season, due to the unusually high temperatures since winter, affecting up to 80% of the producing areas in some areas.

 

ITI, a private technological center specialized in ICT, is working with the agricultural cooperatives of the Valencian Community through COARVAL to help the agricultural sector deploy pest control and prevention strategies.

 

The MoTIA3 project, supported by the Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness (IVACE+i) and the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER), aims to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques in agro-industrial projects. In this third year, the objective is to continue the work carried out in the first two years of the project and, at the same time, to apply the technology in new areas.

Consequently, cooperation with COARVAL is opening up new avenues for the application of MoTIA3 in the context of pest control. ITI has an experimental set-up based on a portable microscope and an automatic x-y positioner with which the citrus and persimmon leaves provided by COARVAL can be analyzed. The microscope automatically scans the specimens and captures images that are processed for the detection and counting of whitefly eggs, larvae, and pupae.

The threat of whitefly pests to the Valencian agricultural sector is significant, so counting is a fundamental prevention tool to combat it. In this regard, the number of findings in the leaf specimens determines whether control treatments are applied. The accuracy of the count is therefore crucial for making correct and timely decisions. The main objective of the work is to replace manual counting with a digitized and automated solution that optimizes the process.

 

The control treatment involves the use of phytosanitary products, which must be applied precisely to avoid negative economic and environmental impacts. Thus, the techniques developed and applied in the MoTIA3 project, thanks to the use of AI algorithms for the detection, tracking, and counting of insects, guarantee the necessary precision for pest control treatments to be used at the most appropriate times to optimize the effects of their application in such a way that they truly protect the crops of farmers, explained Pedro Zuccarello, the project's lead researcher at ITI.

 

David Orduña, an agronomic technician at COARVAL, has pointed out that cooperation with ITI to combat whitefly pests threatening agriculture is of vital importance: “The new European regulatory frameworks added to the reduction of active substances that we have been experiencing for some years now mean that we must adjust the effect of treatments very precisely over time, which is why digitization and AI are indispensable tools to ensure profitability and sustainability in the agricultural sector”.

Thus, Sandra López, Head of the Quality and Innovation Department at COARVAL, adds that “from COARVAL, we are grateful to be able to develop this collaboration with ITI, and we trust that this new technology applied to the agricultural sector can represent a great advance in combating one of the pests that most threaten the Valencian orange and persimmon crops”.

 

From the tiger mosquito to infinity

In this third year of MoTIA, the focus is being placed on other types of pests whose presence has direct consequences on the agricultural industry, such as the whitefly. Previously, the project had focused on combating the tiger mosquito, which poses a serious problem at the health and tourism levels for the Valencian Community due to its potential as a transmitter of certain diseases.

In this case, the first two years of MoTIA were dedicated to applying Artificial Intelligence techniques in the context of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), which is a biotechnical pest control technique applied, in this case, to control the tiger mosquito. SIT is based on the mass rearing of sterile male specimens which are subsequently released into the environment, thus controlling the reproduction rate of the species. Male mosquitoes do not bite people, and, being sterile, when they mate with wild females, the population is reduced.

 

ITI has worked, using AI algorithms and advanced Industry 4.0 technologies, with the objectives of optimizing and automating the performance of the mass rearing process within the biofactory and monitoring the SIT program through the analysis of field traps. With MoTIA3, ITI is continuing what was achieved in the previous two years and, at the same time, expanding its application with COARVAL.

 

We continue to work in the environmental and agricultural sector with technology that serves to detect both tiger mosquito eggs in field traps and whitefly eggs on citrus or persimmon leaves. All this, with the aim of detecting pests prematurely and being able to reduce the economic and environmental cost of control and prevention strategies, concluded Pedro Zuccarello.

 

This project is supported by the Conselleria d’Innovació, Indústria, Comerç i Turisme de la Generalitat Valenciana, through IVACE, and is financed by the European Union, through the FEDER Valencian Community 2021-2027 Program.

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