Artificial Intelligence Could Use Images from Smartphones to Detect Pests Destroying Strawberries in Florida

May 2021 FloridAgriculture eNewsletter

Scientists at the University of Florida developed an app for smartphones that will use images to locate the twospotted spider mite, a pest that potentially ruins strawberry production in Florida. Dr. Daniel Lee, the researcher leading this near-half-million-dollar project, believes this technology is the key to cultivating a more secure future for the Florida strawberry industry.

“It will be environmentally sound technology,” Dr. Lee said. “It can save money and labor, increasing the competitiveness of the Florida strawberry industry.

Controlling the twospotted spider mite is crucial to the strawberry industry. If left uncontrolled, these pests can quickly and completely defoliate the plants on which they feed.

“In a lot of seasons, the twospotted spider mite can be the worst pest we have in the field,” said Michelle Williamson, manager of a local strawberry farm in Plant City, Florida. “It can wipe out an area of the field in less than a week to 10 days.”

While this technology may be a few years from being field-ready, preliminary results are promising. If the technology functions correctly, farmers will have access to an automated counting system, which will be a significant improvement from the current, manual system.

“It would be extremely helpful for us on the growers’ side,” Williamson said. “Any tool that we can get in our toolbox helps to give us a better foot out in the field.”

The Florida strawberry industry is the second-largest in production across the United States, with approximately 8,000 acres throughout the state. Damage to the industry caused by these pests reach far into the millions of dollars annually.

For more information on this technology, visit the UF IFAS blog.