Decision-Support Tool Using HiPerGator May Help Manage Devastating Avocado Disease

Clint Thompson Avocado, Florida, Top Posts

Jonathan Crane, professor of horticultural sciences, inspecting an avocado tree at the Tropical Research and Education Center.

November 18, 2020

By: Brad Buck, bradbuck@ufl.edu, 352-875-2641 (cell)

UF/IFAS researchers are working on a decision-support app to help policy makers and growers decide the best regional treatment options for laurel wilt disease, which is challenging Florida’s $35 million-a-year avocado crop.

Laurel wilt disease is spread by several ambrosia beetle vectors. People, whether they grow avocados or not, can spread the beetles when they move infested wood products – for example, firewood and wood-turner wood — UF/IFAS researchers say. UF/IFAS researchers are trying to get all of this spreading under control.

To help develop the app, scientists are using the HiPerGator, a supercomputer on the main University of Florida campus in Gainesville, to analyze massive amounts of data.

“This network analysis app will aid policy makers by providing input about how such things as subsidies or penalties for disease management are likely to affect growers’ management decisions and resulting disease spread,” said Berea Etherton, a doctoral student in plant pathology in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “Better regional management as a whole benefits individual growers.”

Scientists hope to gain better regional control of laurel wilt through machine learning for analysis of satellite images. Those analyses train an artificial intelligence system to recognize patterns from remotely sensed images, said Etherton, who’s conducting the research under the supervision of her advisor, UF/IFAS Professor Karen Garrett.

“In the next steps for the project, we plan to integrate satellite image analysis and disease recognition to support decision makers considering the best management strategies,” Garrett said. “The computational demands of the machine-learning tools in this project will benefit from the new HiPerGator resources.”

The UF supercomputer will allow for rapid analysis of large data sets, Etherton said. This project is designed to pass the benefits of the HiPerGator on to the growers, as decision support will include input from satellite images and high-speed processing.

Florida avocados are grown almost entirely in Miami-Dade County. Many consumers love to eat them in a variety of ways, including in guacamole dip. But even as laurel wilt disease damages avocado trees, demand for the fruit continues to rise in global markets. According to UF/IFAS economists, about 80% of Florida’s avocados are sold outside Florida and the industry has an economic impact of about $100 million to the state’s economy.

Garrett and Etherton are working with researchers at the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They all hope the app will help control laurel wilt on a regional basis.

“Any technology that is accessible, efficacious and economical and helps producers combat laurel wilt is welcome,” said Jonathan Crane, UF/IFAS professor of horticulture and a tropical fruit Extension specialist at TREC.

“Managing crop diseases is challenging, because the success of one grower’s management strategies often depends on how well other growers are managing the disease.  We are working to contribute to regional management strategies,” Garrett said.