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The German chemical company Basf, together with the Spanish research center Tecnalia, has developed a technology whereby drones and automatic image recognition can be used to see which diseases and/or pests a farmer is dealing with on their fields or greenhouses.

A joint press release states that the two parties have been working together on this technique since 2014, which “allows us to use artificial intelligence to use the most modern algorithms for healthy crops,” in the words of Ramon Navarra-Mestre of Basf’s agricultural research department.

Perfecting the technique further

This press release does not signify the end of the research. “It is going to continue. The more information we record in our database, the greater the significance for Basf,” says Jone Echazarra of Tecnalia.

As such, Basf not only has ethical reasons for collecting the data but also commercial grounds. The company from Ludwigshafen is one of the largest producers of pesticides in the world. The better the systems are for detecting and identifying diseases and pests, the more demand there is for Basf’s products. Basf’s practices, as it happens, are not without controversy.

Criticism from Foodwatch

Earlier this year, the European food safety advocacy agency Foodwatch criticized Basf for exporting pesticides that are banned in the European Union to developing countries. In this respect, Basf is not so very different from the other major competitor from its own country, Bayer. The latter currently has billion-dollar claims lodged against it along with Monsanto and the pesticide glyphosate.

Basf’s products include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and all kinds of vitamins and minerals designed to promote plant growth. Furthermore, Basf Plant Science is also working on genetic modification to make plants more resistant to e.g. drought or particular diseases.

Tecnalia is a technological research center that has branches in Spain as well as in Germany, France, Italy, and Serbia. It has 1400 employees from 30 countries who mainly focus on the themes of digital transformation, health, and sustainability.

Read our other IO articles on the theme of sustainable agriculture.