Syngenta detects nematodes with satellite images

  • October 5, 2022
  • William Payne

Billions of dollars of crop damage are caused each year globally by plant parasitic nematode infections, or roundworm. In the United States alone, microscopic nematode infections cause $150 billion in crop losses each year. Swiss-based Syngenta Crop Protection is developing a new way to detect infestations of nematodes in soybean crops, using satellite images. According to the company, this is the world’s first commercial digital solution for detecting nematode infestations, and marks a breakthrough in its management.

The new digital tool uses a proprietary algorithm to analyse images of fields obtained by satellites, allowing it to identify areas of high infestations of plant-parasitic nematodes in crops and estimate potential losses. Using the tool, farmers can make adjustments to field management, avoiding losses in yield, optimising inputs’ use, and improving farm sustainability.

Syngenta will first market this service to soybean farmers in Brazil, where the company already offers an extensive range of advanced digital solutions. Soybean is one of the most important crops in the world for its vital role in food production, and Brazil accounts for approximately 35 percent of global soybean production. In Brazil, plant-parasitic nematodes cause estimated losses in soybean production amounting to more than USD 5.4 billion a year. So far, the threat from harmful nematodes has been largely invisible and insufficiently understood, and estimates say that Brazilian farmers lose as much as 30 percent of their yield in highly infested areas.

The satellite image analysis tool is the result of a multi-year collaboration with Swiss-based AgTech startup Gamaya SA – a spin-off from Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. The collaboration brought together Gamaya’s specialised expertise in algorithm development with Syngenta’s agronomic and crop knowledge. Syngenta is integrating this advanced digital solution within its own digital technology platform, CROPWISE.

“Harmful nematodes that devastate crops are a major threat to farmers and food security, and Syngenta is using cutting-edge digital solutions to help combat these pests,” said Jeff Rowe, President Global Crop Protection. “We are excited to be launching this product in Brazil, and there is great potential to scale this solution to other countries and crops and transform the decision-making capabilities for growers.”

“At Syngenta, we will continue to invest in machine learning and data science, to develop further breakthrough offers for farmers,” said Feroz Sheikh, Chief Information and Digital Officer of Syngenta Group. “The technology is a great addition to our CROPWISE platform, which already digitally connects almost 200 million acres of land, and underlines our commitment to invest in and partner with providers in the AgTech space.”