Why phosphine (PH3) fumigation for pest management in harvested crops is tough to harness and what Centaur is doing to streamline its application for better economics and safety
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (UN FAO), 17% of the world’s agricultural products spoil after leaving the field from infestation, storage conditions and weather, causing approximately $1 trillion of annual post-harvest waste. One critical component to ensure future food security and abundance is the reduction of insect-related spoilage, which requires innovations in storage and logistics methods. Intelligent, precise and sustainable stored-product pest management is crucial in this respect.
Phosphine (PH3) is inexpensive, easy to apply and is universally accepted as a residue-free treatment. This makes it the the single most relied-upon fumigant to control grain pests. However, improper use has led to tolerance among stored product insects. Leaky storage structures, such as crop silos, make it difficult to maintain the proper phosphine concentrations. Inefficient quality assurance methods lead to treatment durations that are too short to be effective. The application of pest control fumigants is done with decades-old monitoring technology, and frequently without monitoring at all. Fumigant dosage is seldom correlated to the product being treated, the actual storage micro-climate, and the encountered types of warehouse insects.
Centaur’s cognitive pest management platform is a game changer, offering a cloud-based system of connected gas sensors for food/stored product fumigation monitoring and a set of tools for optimized fumigation processes. Centaur’s wireless sensors are intelligently monitoring the application of fumigants and are safely uploading the data in real-time, on a 24/7 basis. A special, patent-pending design enables the sensors to transmit data from confined spaces and withstand phosphine environments, which are corrosive to electronic equipment. All the readings are transferred automatically to the cloud making them accessible from anywhere – whether in the field using Centaur’s mobile app for tablet and smartphone, or back in the office on the web app version.
Centaur’s cognitive analytics, available within the platform, remove the guesswork and effectively de-risk pest management. Behind the scenes, entomological models are applied to the data stream and predictive analysis guides end users with actionable advice. This entails prescribing correct dosages and treatment durations, predicting fumigation success or failure, issuing early warnings and alarms for predictive actions (see Figure). Each action is tailored to environmental conditions, physical form of phosphide (plate, tablet, etc.), commodity under treatment, type of storage structure and fumigation protocol followed by the user.
Additionally, health and safety concerns dictate that the application of phosphine is monitored with advanced technology in order to ensure proper use (adherence to precise pest control protocols), environmental safety (managing stored product pests and controlling resistance to pesticides) and operator safety (phosphine is highly toxic to humans, any leaks should be controlled). Contrary to the established monitoring practices (workers entering the storage under fumigation with protective masks), Centaur’s procedure is 100% safe for the operator as it can be administered remotely.
The economic benefits for the end users of Centaur’s platform include, among others: a) mitigation and prevention of crop spoilage; b) cost reduction of the overall pest control application, avoiding excessive chemicals (e.g. overdosing, need to repeat failed fumigations) as well as excess labor; and c) improved quality of finished products (e.g. flour), traceability and defensibility against quality claims from retailers.