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How Social Media Networks Could Help Save Citrus From the Ravaging Impacts of Greening

If you could save the citrus industry by spending 5 minutes a day on your iPhone sending your HLB observations to a website, would you do it? Last month, I talked about ways social media can accelerate communications between citrus growers and scientists, especially in disease management. I introduced a private social network, called Podio (, and showed several examples how Podio can help during freezes and with solving problems such as fruit drop. This month, I’ll go into more detail of how Podio–and other applications like it–can connect stakeholders in Florida citrus together. With problems like citrus greening where time is of the essence, fast communications are needed to stay on top of imminent threats and understand better how to control them. We do this by sharing information. For growers, this is mostly anecdotal information. For researchers, it’s scientific information. There is enormous value in combining grower anecdotal information and scientific knowledge, and making it more easily available. Perhaps 5 minutes a day sharing your observations on an iPhone is too much to ask to save the industry. But, if not, this article shows one way you can do it.

Social Media and Data Aggregation

Podio is a social network that can be used privately just between invited members. In addition to peer-to-peer communications features like those provided by any social network, Podio also allows you to easily create custom apps for particular data collection needs. Podio’s interface makes creating these apps easy. Examples include timesheets, grove surveys, well readings, crop test results, safety inspections, new variety performance results and more. Information from your apps can be exported directly from Podio into spreadsheets for more detailed analyses and reporting. This export feature makes Podio valuable in scientific research, especially if the experiment is a cooperative one between groups of growers and researchers. Connecting through Podio can reduce the communication lag between growers and researchers that need to share ready-to-use data. Photos are also easy to include in Podio data sets, so data are easily geo-referenced and visually recorded.

Example of a Social Media System in HLB Problem Solving

For more detail on how this process works, Fig. 1 shows Podio in a “crowd-sourced” citrus research and disease management program. (I call it “crowd-sourced” because data originate in the field and are sourced to the cloud by growers.) In the upper left of Fig. 1, growers and other field personnel collect grove observations on their smartphones or other mobile devices. Horticultural responses to nutrition programs, performance information on new varieties and other important data can be easily collected this way. The flow of data from the growers is indicated by the downward-facing “in” arrow, which feeds into Podio’s central database that aggregates the information. In addition to numerical and descriptive data, the value of good photographs of tree responses should also not be overlooked. Geotagging the information makes it even more valuable. Data privacy issues can be addressed using a technique called, “data obfuscation”, in which personally-identifiable information is hidden from view. The amount and type of information collected is limited only by urgency and need. The up-front cost of developing a platform such as Podio for data collection and sharing is much less than developing a fully custom solution from scratch.



Fig. 1. Schematic showing how social media can be used in crowd-sourced citrus production and research.

Social Media and Citrus Production

Once aggregated in the Podio servers, information is organized and archived. Users can not only customize their data-entry requirements, but reports generated from the archived data can be designed to meet specific needs. Since growers can all be connected to the same private network, they can share other useful information directly between themselves on their mobile devices. A CHMA program that uses push messaging would be very easy to implement in Podio, for example. Based on sharing criteria, grove offices can also have access to uploaded field information on their desktop computers (Fig. 1, upper right). This is useful for producing reports on grove condition that help with harvesting and caretaking operations, for example. The possibilities are too numerous to list, but they are only limited by the need for and willingness to work with such a system. Podio is flexible enough for individual users or companies to find it very useful, but we need to have a certain critical mass of users in the industry at large to gain the best value.

Social Media and Citrus Research

Scientists who collaborate with growers can be granted access to download raw field data from the cloud in real-time (Fig. 1, lower left). Such information in Podio can be obtained in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets in a way that pre-formats it for statistical or other analyses. Raw field data are often difficult to understand due to background noise, so we are often initially interested in identifying important trends. One excellent way to analyze noisy data is with a “neural network“, which is good at identifying trends in otherwise “messy” data. (We used a neural network in the early days of the rust mite monitoring system that we introduced with Novartis Crop Protection. This technique helped us identify hard-to-detect trends and improve our rust mite forecast models without the constraint of having replicated experimental trials. This system is now provided by Syngenta Crop Protection.) Incidentally, a system like Podio works best as a compliment to, rather than a replacement for, another system that monitors specifically for certain pests.

Automation and Accelerating Time to Publication of Useful Results

Basic analyses of exported data can be automated (e.g., relating fruit drop to weather or soil type), but scientists can personally examine data when more detailed analyses are warranted. Imagine if the industry had such a system set up during the fruit drop problem last year. We might already be well on our way to knowing what caused that problem!

The time from data collection in the field, to scientific analyses, to published results containing useable information, can be greatly reduced using communication systems that leverage the features of social media (Fig. 1, lower right). This, in turn, would lead to better technology-driven decision tools that use crowd-sourced data for more reliable results. The potential to develop these capabilities with private-sector technology partners should put social media systems for citrus production and scientific research higher up on the industry’s radar.

Author disclaimer  The information in this article is provided “as is”. The author and publisher of this article disclaim any loss or liability, either directly or indirectly as a consequence of applying the information presented herein, or in regard to the use and application of said information for any purpose whatsoever. No guarantee is given, either expressed or implied, in regard to the merchantability, accuracy, or acceptability of the information.

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