GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Now that we’re knee-deep in strawberry season, many growers owe Clyde Fraisse and Natalia Peres a debt of gratitude. About a decade ago, Peres saw a need for a fungicide decision-support tool. Farmers sprayed about every week to control strawberry diseases known as anthracnose and botrytis during the growing season, which goes from November through March in Florida.
Peres, a UF/IFAS professor of plant pathology, knew that calendar-based spraying wasted money for the grower and led to increased risk of fungicide resistance. So, she approached Fraisse, a UF/IFAS professor of agricultural and biological engineering.
Fraisse and his team used innovative agrometeorological approaches to develop a web-based tool that was released in 2011 using disease models developed by Peres and her group. Known as the Strawberry Advisory System (SAS), it uses data such as temperature and leaf wetness to tell growers when to spray fungicide.
Flash forward about nine years, and now, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has recognized Fraisse for his work on the development of an app, which gives growers alerts straight to their cellphones or computers about when to spray for fungi that imperil their crops.
Before Fraisse and others developed SAS, strawberry growers sprayed regularly, whether they needed to or not, because they were concerned about the risk to such a high-value crop. When conditions are ripe for botrytis to spread – lower temperatures and dampness on leaves – strawberry production can decrease by 50 percent, even if a grower uses a scheduled fungicide.
Fraisse and Peres noticed that growers were very connected to their mobile devices, so they worked with Jose Henrique Andreis, a former UF/IFAS engineer, to develop SAS into an app, available on iOS or Android. And in 2020, they came out with an improved version of SAS.
The tool recently won the award for “weather/climate information for farming” in the WMO’s apps category.
“I was not expecting the award but was of course very happy as it recognizes the work that we as a team have done over the last decade,” Fraisse said. “The app itself is very well-designed and implemented but it represents a lot of work conducted by my team and Natalia Peres’ team.”
Peres, a plant pathology professor at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Hillsborough County, works with growers daily in west central Florida’s strawberry production hub.
That’s good news as Florida’s growers enter a new season. Strawberry growers in states including South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and California are reaping the benefits of SAS.
The fruit packs a powerful economic punch nationwide and in the Sunshine State, bringing in $2.3 billion to the national economy and $300 million a year to Florida, according to UF/IFAS research.
A 2014 UF/IFAS study suggested the value of SAS at $1.76 million in lowered fungicide spraying for anthracnose and $890,000 for botrytis over a 10-year period.
“The system has been valuable to growers in that it reduces the number of times they have to spray, and consequently the risk for selection of resistant strains” Peres said. “Thus, cost savings for growers are substantial. In addition, it has potential environmental and health benefits since residues on fruit are much lower. Dr. Fraisse and his team have been crucial for the development of a user-friendly system that has been widely adopted by growers, and I am proud of this recognition from the WMO.”
–Brad Buck, UF/IFAS