University of Georgia and University of Florida (UF) researchers are using weather monitors to combat diseases in strawberry fields. The researchers are testing the Strawberry Advisory System (SAS) in Georgia strawberry fields. SAS, an app created, in part, by UF plant pathologist Natalia Peres, uses temperature and leaf moisture monitors to recommend when farmers should spray for Botrytis and anthracnose, two fungi that cause fruit rot on strawberries. Strawberry farmers typically apply fungicides every week during the growing season to prevent and control diseases. The SAS application reduces the amount of fungicide a grower needs to spray. A 2014 Florida study showed that following SAS recommendations could increase growers’ net profits by $1.7 million over a 10-year period when compared to traditional spraying regimens. The system has been tested in Florida for three to four years and in South Carolina for one year. This is the first year that SAS is being used on Georgia-grown berries.Farmers can install the necessary equipment – a temperature and humidity sensor along with a leaf moisture sensor and cellular communication hardware – for about $2,500. The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is exploring the addition of leaf moisture sensors to its existing network of 81 weather stations around the state. Collectively, these stations make up the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network (weather.uga.edu). In the past, a few UGA weather stations included sensors to track leaf moisture. The devices were difficult to keep properly calibrated and were eventually removed, said Ian Flitcroft, manager of the network.“The UGA weather stations can ultimately be modified to include this device,” said Phillip Brannen, a UGA CAES plant pathologist based in Athens, Georgia. “If a farmer is located close enough to one of our weather stations, he can use that station’s data.”For this weather-driven system to be effective, farmers must use accurate weather data for the area closest to their farm. “In south Georgia, and in a lot of places across the state, it can rain in one field and the next one can be dry as a bone,” Brannen said.This season, UGA Cooperative Extension agents in Appling and Hall counties are testing the system in Georgia strawberry fields. The monitoring stations are located in north Georgia and in south Georgia to track how effective the system is where soil types and weather conditions are different.In Appling County, UGA Extension agent Shane Curry works with farmers in one of the largest strawberry-producing counties in Georgia. He says that the way the berries are picked makes it difficult to track the weather station data’s effect on crop yields.”Strawberries are picked every other day or every third day, so it’s hard for us to get yield counts each time in a commercial field. We are collecting important data and probably will next season, also,” he said. “Ideally, if we don’t see a yield decrease or a reduction in fruit quality, we can reduce the number of sprays and instead spray based on the weather.”Curry would like to see something similar to the SAS app adapted to other Georgia commodities, like pecans and blueberries, very profitable crops in Appling County. He feels the system would also be useful for controlling Botrytis and anthracnose in blueberries and, with some modifications, pecan scab disease in pecan orchards.”With the right programming, we should be able to adapt this system or something similar to almost any crop,” Curry said. “The research on the diseases is already done. Using the information we already have from university research and making it available on smart phones through apps could be very beneficial to farmers. It’s still Extension information, but the delivery is different.” Brannen agrees, and thinks Georgia blueberry farmers waste money and time applying unnecessary fungicide sprays. “The long-term goal will be to add the leaf wetness sensors to UGA’s weather stations. I’m excited about strawberries, but if we get this to work, we can use it on blueberries or apples, basically any crop that gets Botrytis or anthracnose,” said Brannen, whose research focuses on using weather-monitoring equipment and satellite systems to monitor diseases in fruit crops.“Strawberries are a minor crop in Georgia, unless you are a strawberry farmer. It’s not like in Florida and South Carolina. Blueberries are first in my next thought process. This system would help us predict whether a farmer needs to spray, and it could save him money, too,” he said. “You could switch commodities – and I think it would work – and then we could use it to predict the occurrence of the same organisms. If we can do that, then we will really be making hay.”For more information on the SAS app, visit edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ae516.
Darsih is one of 40 FBLP members whose source of income evaporated as a result of the pandemic, joining more than a million others nationwide. Weeks ago, she was still able to run her mobile café, serving coffee and tea to workers at public facilities and malls around North Jakarta on her motorcycle. Now, she can no longer do that because of the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) imposed by the government in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.She and other union members who lost their jobs have set up a small home industry to produce fabric face masks in order to survive, as they have had little luck with social aid programs.FBLP is not alone in the struggle to support dismissed workers and their families on a daily basis. Other labor unions, including an alliance of the country’s three biggest groups, who all supported President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo – the Workers Union Confederation (KSPI), the All-Indonesia Workers Union Confederation (KSPSI) and the Indonesia Welfare Labor Confederation (KSBSI) – face the same problems.Desperation has fueled anger about the government’s insistence on continuing to deliberate the omnibus bill on job creation at a time when people have been told to stay at home.Now workers may be bold enough to risk catching COVID-19. They plan to stage massive rallies in front of executive and legislative offices nationwide on April 30.“The option is either to die from the coronavirus for joining a rally or die of starvation for having nothing to eat,” FBLP chairwoman Jumisih said on Monday.Read also: Workers blast lawmakers with messages opposing omnibus bill on job creationCome rain or shine: Workers from the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FSPM) participate in the People’s Meeting held by the Mobile People’s Alliance (ARB) at the junction at Jl. Gejayan in Sleman, Yogyakarta, on March 9. Workers have widely opposed the omnibus bill on job creation for impinging upon labor rights. (JP/Bambang Muryanto)Rallies at the House complex were initially planned by the big-three unions at the end of March, but the police urged them to postpone and obey the state-led stay-at-home order.They were also briefly persuaded that progress on the bill would be delayed after several political leaders, including House speaker Puan Maharani of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), questioned the need to rush the process.Much to their surprise, lawmakers moved to proceed with the bill’s deliberation, a decision announced by House Deputy Speaker Azis Syamsuddin, a Golkar Party lawmaker, during a House plenary session earlier this month. Azis claims the President himself gave the green light for the discussions.“We urge lawmakers to stop the deliberation [process]. President Jokowi must immediately retract the bill from the House,” said KSPSI chairman Andi Ghani Nuwa Wea. “Our members nationwide are getting ready to rally, and I can assure you that they are prepared to die.”Read also: PDI-P, NasDem call to remove labor provisions from omnibus jobs billThe insistence of politicians from the ruling coalition on continuing the talks in private has raised concerns about the motivation behind the omnibus bill.Lawmakers and officials have argued that the bill is required to boost investment, but labor unions consider that the hasty political horse trade occurring behind the curtain of physical distancing serves a single purpose: to provide companies a way out of honoring their responsibilities to their workers.The leaders of several progressive labor unions, including FBLP, KSPSI and the Congress Alliance of Indonesian Labor Unions (KASBI) said that both officials and lawmakers were using the COVID-19 crisis to “legitimize the exploitation of workers”.“While we are hard at work pushing firms to hand over severance pay to workers already laid off, the government and lawmakers are working fast to pass a bill that allows them to easily lay off even more people,” said KASBI chair Nining Elitos.According to Manpower Ministry data, more than a million workers have been laid off or furloughed since the COVID-19 outbreak took hold in the country. An estimated 5.2 million more workers could still lose their jobs.Read also: Millions to lose jobs, fall into poverty as Indonesia braces for recessionThe bill has been criticized for its pro-business bent, which would make it harder for laborers to negotiate on equal footing.“It promotes the spirit of individualism by restricting the role of unions in negotiations. It involves pitting [individual] workers against entire companies, so how can you expect a fair fight?” Jumisih said.Responding to mounting protests, leaders of the House Legislation Body (Baleg) tasked with negotiating the bill have pledged to remain transparent and accountable, with promises to broadcast all the meetings publicly on the legislature’s television channel and its social media accounts.“We also promise to invite the unions to participate in the meetings, whether virtually or face-to-face,” said Baleg chairman Supratman Andi Atgas of the Gerindra Party.However, backroom talks remain unsupervised.Read also: Backroom bargain: House holds closed meeting on job creation billBaleg kicked off the bill’s virtual deliberation process on April 7, having made only the last few minutes of the meeting accessible to the public.Another meeting on April 14 was broadcast for the first 30 minutes before it was switched with a parallel program led by Golkar’s Azis detailing solutions that firms have come up with.Topics : Darsih, a 41-year-old single mother of two, spent more than a year fighting for her right to severance pay after she was laid off in October 2018. At the time, she was working for a South Korean garment factory operating in North Jakarta. She was one of hundreds of workers who were laid off for the sake of cost efficiency.Even after months of battling it out through legal channels with the help of the Inter-Factory Laborers Federation (FBLP), Darsih still lost her appeal.But her focus held steady on the struggle. She was well aware of what little chance factory workers had to win a battle for rights against corporations. The fact that the government has moved in favor of investment has made the fight that much harder.Read also: Key points of labor reform in omnibus bill on job creation“Winning is just a reward,” Darsih said. “I have learned a lot about the labor movement, including the hard work and commitment needed to fight for my right as a worker,” she told The Jakarta Post last weekend.Now with the COVID-19 outbreak looming over her struggle, Darsih said the sense of community she gained from joining the FBLP had been crucial for her survival, since there were few opportunities for someone like her to get a formal education.