A Rothamsted-based research hub called Agrimetrics says farmers and agronomists can make better growing decisions by comparing the crop inputs applied by different growers in similar conditions.
Collecting such data helps build up a picture of how best to treat crops affected by any number of variables – including weather, soil type and drilling date.
By creating these different scenarios, growers will be better able to compare the same crops on other farms, and will also know how best to respond to challenging conditions with minimal impact on yield, according to speakers at an Agri Tech East conference on big data.
However, the old-school mentality of many farmers shouldn’t be discredited and a hands-on attitude is still essential if data is to be usable in day-to-day decision making.
Agrimetrics is one of four centres of excellence in the UK dedicated to maximising data use throughout the agri-food system. It believes that allowing farmers to compare results with one another across a wide range of variables will improve profits in the long term.
For instance, a farmer struggling to get a high yield of winter beans on heavy clay soil could compare his decisions with those of a grower battling the same conditions but achieving higher yields.
Such an approach can be advantageous to the whole chain – particularly the veg and fruit sectors, where packing companies can be kept abreast of shortfalls or surpluses to help make alterations to supply.
Greenvale AP – Potato Yield Monitor
Greenvale, AP assisted by Agrimetrics with NIAB
Who: Largest supplier of organic potatoes
Problems: Yield loss affecting income
Aim: Record in-season data to produce a timeline for crops and accurate growth milestones to predict yield. More than 20 years of research has gone into the development of the potato yield monitor to help agronomists to identify high-risk crops at emergence.
Agrimetrics has developed the Potato Yield Monitor, which is used by Greenvale across up to 60 of its potato crops.
Greenvale technical manager Robert Allen reckons spud crops can lose 0.25t/ha in yield for every day they fall behind the predicted emergence date, so being able to predict when a crop might need special attention is vital in minimising losses come harvest.
Agronomists and growers can also benchmark each field to help make it more obvious where crops are slower than usual in getting going. Being able to identify the limiting factors that are negatively affecting yield will help in future years for drilling timeliness or cultivation approaches, Allen says.
It’s also useful to know what to expect before walking a crop and allows the agronomist to spend more time focusing on problems such as disease pressure. In turn, this could allow chemical savings or application timing adjustments compared with a blanket approach.
Growers are also able to take pictures of the canopy from phones and drones before uploading them to the app. These can then be processed and set against the database to provide an accurate estimate of yield.
The Potato Yield Monitor is currently available to selected producers in the UK, but it is expected to be more widely available after further testing.
Who: Three million lettuce heads sold per week
Location: Growing areas in East Anglia, Sussex, Kent and Murcia, Spain.
Problem: Ability to match supply and demand across different production sites
Aims: Improve sales forecasting and improve drilling timing to coincide with demand
The system employed by G’s Growers is assisted by the Smith Institute and is using data to helping to match supply and demand.
The Smith Institute collated a bank of data such as drilling dates from previous growing seasons, and this has been used to create perfect-scenario production schedules and harvesting dates to try to make sure there’s a continuous supply of lettuces, with minimal waste.
Dr Andrei Bejan, consulting mathematician at the Smith Institute, identified plans to provide a “what if” scenario tool based on the most common variables such as weather and disease. It will allow the G’s Growers team to have a set plan in place to deal with, for instance, a damaging frost, rather than reacting in a panicked fashion when the problem arises.
The weather is a constant variable for farmers, but if we can have a better grasp of other factors then the chance of improving yield is greater, says Dr Bejan.