In our fast-paced world, working smarter, not harder, is crucial. This applies to all aspects of life, including farming. Whether you’re an agriculturist managing a start-up vertical farming enterprise or a novice gardener tending your first vegetable patch, combining smart technology and traditional methods can revolutionise your approach to crop disease detection and control, to support a successful yield.

In this blog post, horticulturist, business owner and guest-contributor, David Haddad, explores the symbiotic relationship we can forge with technology to implement an efficient disease management plan in your garden, or an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan on your farm. From vast wheat fields in Lincolnshire to bustling community farms in London, this integrated approach can empower us all to safeguard our precious crops.

The Growing Need for Food Security in a Changing World:

The global population explosion has intensified the demand for affordable food. Climate change, extreme weather events, and rising living costs have reignited concerns about domestic food security. This isn’t a new phenomenon; World War II saw a surge in subsistence farming due to scarcity, and while post-war globalisation eased those concerns, we face new challenges in 2024…

The year has already witnessed devastating floods in California, wildfires in Chile, record-breaking heat in Australia, and extreme snowfall in Canada. Climate change significantly impacts plant health; just like humans, plants have immune systems that weaken under sub-optimal conditions, making them more susceptible to pests and diseases.

These frequent, severe climate events prompt us to consider their long-term implications. For example, farmers are encountering new diseases as warmer-climate pathogens thrive in cooler regions due to rising global temperatures.

The Solution: Early Disease Detection:

The key to securing our future lies in integrating smart technology, raw data, historical knowledge, and using our instincts and expertise.

Plants, like humans, communicate their struggles through visible signs. As a horticulturist, the most frequent question I encounter is, “what’s wrong with my plant?” My response invariably begins with, “what does it look like right now?”

Early detection is paramount when dealing with plant diseases, which can rapidly decimate entire harvests. For instance, crinkled, mottled, or yellowing foliage paired with stunted growth might indicate Potato Virus Y (PVY) infection. Similarly, browning / blackening of flowers and fruit necrosis in pear orchards could suggest Fire Blight caused by Erwinia amylovora. Sudden wilting of crops such as tomatoes or eggplants could suggest a bacterial wilt infection, such as Ralstonia solanacearum.

Taking Technology Into The Field:

It’s encouraging to see how various forms of research and technology are being applied to the agricultural and horticultural sectors to promote crop health and support food security. Even the amateur gardener or urban farmer can make use of mobile apps to detect plant health issues and disease quickly using photo-recognition technology from apps like PlantNet. A few of my favourite examples of other options are outlined below:

  • Pocket Diagnostic®‘s range of affordable and user-friendly lateral flow tests empowers you to detect these diseases in-field, within minutes. These tests require no prior training and better yet, costs start from under £20.
  • Nucleic acid detection lateral flow tests from Abingdon Health coupled with isothermal amplification, enable disease detection even before symptoms manifest. This technology facilitates swift decision-making and the timely implementation of disease isolation and treatment protocols.
  • Farmers are embracing drones equipped with video, motion, and heat detection to monitor crops and identify disease-carrying pests like aphids (which can transmit Erwinia amylovora, for example) and can communicate back to the farmer via an app with a plan of action.
  • The future of farming is already taking root in vertical farms, where robotic arms are revolutionising crop handling and monitoring. These versatile machines not only reach heights inaccessible to humans without specialised equipment, but also leverage artificial intelligence (AI) powered by sensor data. This allows them to operate semi-autonomously, making decisions based on pre-programmed parameters and real-time sensor readings.

Imagine AI minions taking care of crucial tasks like disease detection, pest control, soil moisture monitoring, and light and temperature regulation – even after hours – freeing up human workers for other critical tasks. These innovative technologies pave the way for reduced human supervision and more efficient, data-driven approaches to agriculture, known as Precision Agriculture.

The Power of Observation:

While technology plays a crucial role, it’s essential to remember that the human senses are key to any disease management plan, and the first step in your plan of action…

Combatting crop disease effectively involves a four-step process:

  1. Identify: Begin by visually inspecting your plants for signs of distress like discoloration, wilting, unusual growths, or insect activity. Touch the foliage and stems to detect sticky or mouldy secretions, and even smell the soil – unhealthy, waterlogged soil develops a pungent odour, and is the perfect environment for disease.
  2. Diagnose: Use smart innovations like Pocket Diagnostic®‘s lateral flow tests for on-site, rapid disease identification, empowering informed decision-making on both small and large scales.
  3. Implement: A positive diagnosis demands immediate action. Isolate, remove, or destroy infected plants to prevent further spread. Prioritise environmentally friendly solutions like biological controls (hard-pruning or organic pest control) whenever possible, resorting to chemical controls only as a last resort.
  4. Monitor: Following treatment, remain vigilant with daily monitoring. Remember, a single surviving disease-carrying insect or bacterium can trigger re-infection. Once the outbreak subsides, maintain a regular monitoring schedule to prevent future occurrences. Regular testing of previously infected areas can also help to detect re-infections before they take hold.


By embracing a holistic approach that blends smart technology and traditional methods, we can effectively detect, manage, and prevent crop disease. This not only safeguards our harvests, but also contributes to a more sustainable and secure future for all.

Remember, working smarter, not harder, is the key to success in today’s world. Let’s leverage technology responsibly while harnessing the wisdom of experience to ensure the health and longevity of our crops.