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Research Highlights
Minnesota’s Digital Crop Doc Helps Diagnose Crop Issues Virtually

Sudden death syndrome in soybeans can be difficult to diagnose and needs to be managed appropriately after an accurate diagnosis. Through the free Digital Crop Doc, Minnesota farmers can get virtual help from Extension experts to determine crop issues in their fields. Photo: Angie Peltier

By Carol Brown

Minnesota farmers now have another way to use their smart phones to get answers on crop issues in their fields. Beyond the traditional route of calling their field agronomist and scheduling a personal visit, they can now snap some photos and send them to the Digital Crop Doc for help.

Digital Crop Doc is the brainchild of Angie Peltier, a Minnesota Extension educator based in Crookston, and is supported by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. Essentially, it is a website where anyone can upload up to 10 photos, answer a series of questions about the crop, and enter their contact information. An Extension expert will then review the data and make a diagnosis. 

“When the Covid-19 pandemic arose, Extension educators had significant travel restrictions, which made it difficult to fulfill our roles to help farmers figure out what was happening with their crops,” says Peltier. “With needing prior authorization to travel, we weren’t able to get to the farmers in a timely fashion. The Digital Crop Doc helps us to continue to be as responsive as possible to our farmers.”

Peltier has recruited experts to help her with diagnosing issues, depending on the crop. This is another advantage to this free virtual service, as not all farmers have Extension crop experts nearby.

“We have a team of experts, and we send the appropriate submissions to them,” comments Peltier. “We have a sugarbeet plant pathologist, a small grains agronomist, IPM specialists, corn and soybean plant pathology specialists, and a series of Extension educators that work on field and forage crops.” 

The project rolled out in 2021, but it began in 2020 with Peltier and technology experts on campus exploring how to make the idea work. They researched different programs to identify the right one. She wanted to make the tool as universal as possible, without having people create an account to use it. 

“We wanted to make this system so that anyone with a smart phone, without an email account, could submit pictures on the fly — from within their field,” she explains. “It’s great that the MSRPC is supportive of ideas like this, for the development of more accessible ways in which the producer can best manage their crop. I’m thankful for the checkoff funds and their support.”

The Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council also supports the Digital Crop Doc. 

The project funds go mainly to computer programming support, but there is some travel in the budget, as sometimes a diagnosis requires a closer look. 

“There may be some instances where we want to make a diagnosis not just on pictures alone,” says Peltier. “We might need to go figure out what’s happening in person. We also have funds to confirm the visual diagnoses at plant clinics if need be.”

She points to soybean sudden death syndrome as an example of why a proper diagnosis is important. The SDS symptoms appear during pod fill, but infection would have taken place below ground many weeks earlier, as soon as the radicle emerged from the seed, Peltier says. An accurate disease diagnosis is important for proper management, as spraying foliar fungicide after symptoms appear does nothing to protect plants that were infected many weeks prior. 

In addition to providing the proper diagnosis, a goal of the Digital Crop Doc, and the experts behind it, is to make the diagnosis in a timely fashion. They try to respond to inquiries within three business days. 

“Time is of the essence for figuring out what the issue is,” Peltier comments. “Not only are we identifying the potential problem, but we’re also providing management recommendations to help the producer either manage it in the current growing season, or the next time they grow that crop.”

The Digital Crop Doc is housed on the University of Minnesota Extension website. It’s free to use and no account is needed. Find it at: https://extension.umn.edu/crop-production/digital-crop-doc.

This project is part of a larger research project led by Peltier on managing white mold. Learn more about this part of the project here

This project was funded by the soybean checkoff. To find research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.