Food & Drink

Why ‘laser beam’ farming is the future

By Kitty Knowles 15 November 2017

Future farming is here - and we're feeling the force.

The countryside might look green and pleasant. But it’s a hard life for farmers always looking out for insects feasting on their crops.

The situation is made harder by the fact that smart farmers want to avoid spraying chemical nasties where possible, so as not to harm the natural ecosystems around them.

“Insect pests directly damage crops causing significant losses, and the regular monitoring of fields is a labour-intensive, time-consuming and costly,” entrepreneur Frederik Taarnhøj told The Memo. “But efficient pest control that is non-threatening to beneficials and pollinators is a major challenge.”

This is why he co-founded FaunaPhotonics – a laser beam system capable of monitoring the insects in the air before they even land on veggies.

“Our insect sensor technology remotely counts and classifies insect species to help farmers make better decisions,” explains the CEO.

“Knowing what is going on in the field makes life easier, secures harvests, boosts yields and protects pollinators.”

Laser beam bounty

Taarnhøj created FaunaPhotonics in 2014 with the help of two researchers Mikkel Brydegaard and Carsten Kirkeb.

The systems cutting-edge optical sensors have yet to hit the market, and are currently patent pending, but could revolutionise the agricultural sector – removing the need to manually scout out bugs.

Farmers simply place the insect sensor in the field, it collects data, and they receive an alert telling them what specific insect species are present when to – or not to – spray particular pesticides.

It’s for any farmer who wants to adopt new technology fast, data-driven ways to precisely manage their crops, says Taarnhøj.

“This is a major change from the current limited ability to characterise insect population dynamics at the plot level,” he says.

“We want FaunaPhotonics to help farmers feel safe from crop losses, and good about treating the environment better.”

Your future farm?

The FaunaPhotonics team are currently running tests to prove that their kit works, that yields are improved as a result, and that it supports farmers to reduce pesticide usage.

In one test project run with Denmark’s Århus University the team are working with clover growers in Lolland, who want to help improve conditions for bees. The team also continues to develop their laser equipment in labs and fields in Britain with the help of Rothamsted Research.

The company aims to keep improving the accuracy of the algorithms used in insect species identification, and to better translate this data into insect population mapping before a commercial launch.

“In farming’s future in-field sensors will monitor insects and farmers will only treat fields when and where it is really needed,” Taarnhøj says of the future.

Now that’s a future fit for our green and pleasant lands.