Casino experts help combat UK arable diseases

Data-crunching techniques employed by Las Vegas casinos are helping some of the UK’s biggest farming companies combat diseases such as septoria in winter wheat.

Analytics company Hummingbird Technologies says advanced data capture and machine learning algorithms can provide early warning of yield-robbing diseases.

Hummingbird chief executive Will Wells said the goal of the business was to emulate some of the advances seen in other sectors and apply them to agriculture.

See also: How to get started using drones to monitor crops

Mr Wells told Farmers Weekly: “One of our guys used work analysing or writing algorithms to examine surveillance videos in Las Vegas.”

The idea was to observe blackjack tables and create algorithms to calculate the likely length of a game – or to gauge how good a dealer was or whether people were counting cards.

Similar techniques could be used to assess crop biomass, said Mr Wells. “When you lift the bonnet on it, a lot of the techniques are exactly the same.”

Hummingbird uses unmanned aerial vehicles to collect some 30m data points from each field. But Mr Wells rejects any suggestion that it is “just another drone company”.

“We are looking out for a very subtle changes, subtle changes in colour, chlorophyll or biomass – very miniscule metrics,” he said.

“The action of observing surveillance footage is similar to observing a blackjack table – you are looking for very subtle discrepancies.”

Advance warning of diseases such as septoria in winter wheat will be hugely beneficial, believe Hummingbird shareholders, which include some of the UK’s biggest farming companies.

It will enable growers to take pre-emptive action, cutting input costs and reducing the number of spray applications.

Companies involved with Hummingbird include farm management firm Velcourt, Beeswax Farming, G’s and the science-based research organisation Niab.