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Grampian Growers Tuberzone project is a Scottish Operational Group addressing the benefits of using precision technology to optimise the value of seed potato crops. Jim Wilson of SoilEssentials - “Tuberzone is a crop model that runs in the cloud. It uses satellite and drone imagery, global weather records at a field scale across the world to predict the yield”. The technology helps farmers make decisions on when to stop tuber growth to maximise yield, quality and value of seed potatoes.
This Operational Group led by SAC Consulting (part of Scotland’s Rural College) and SoilEssentials (agricultural precision technology company) involved a group of 28 seed potato growers from the Grampian Growers co-operative based in the east and north of Scotland, all growing the salad potato variety Gemson. In the production of these seed potatoes, the date at which a grower stops tuber growth is crucial for maximising crop value. Accurate predictions of tuber growth and haulm destruction dates can contribute to competitiveness, resource efficiency, environmental performance and sustainability. Indeed, the Tuberzone crop model software, created by project partner SoilEssentials, monitors plant numbers, canopy development, and soil moisture and combines this with weather information to predict tuber size, yield and optimum haulm destruction date.
“The thing about salad potato seed production is you need large numbers of very small tubers. The agronomy judgement is to know exactly when to stop the crop from growing, to kill the top of the crop.” – Stuart Wale, SAC Consulting
The idea was to increase grower awareness of the benefits of using remote sensing technology and software outputs as part of their crop decision-making process. Project coordinator Iain Riddell from SAC Consulting: “The main objective of this project was to get all of the Gemson growers adopting a precision approach to predicting ideal haulm destruction dates for their potato crop. Our secondary objective was to see how the growers get on and determine how much support is required when adopting new technology.” The partners involved were agricultural consultants, potato specialists, an agricultural technology company, a potato co-operative and seed potato farmers.
“I got involved because being able to use new technologies to help advance our farming practices is a massive thing, because we really need to find newer ways to improve our marketable yields and improve our profits.” – Tom, one of the growers.
The 28 growers were trained to use the Tuberzone software and were supported by the other project partners in applying the software over a year of production.
Growers provided initial cropping details to the software. Then, all data was gathered from a distance using satellite and UAV (drone) imagery, tracking also crop growth patterns. The local data was then combined with global data on soil moisture and weather. The software provided growers with reports which increase in frequency as haulm destruction approaches. This means the information was as up to date as possible, enabling the grower to select the optimum date to stop tuber growth, providing growers with predictions of tuber size, yield and economic return.
To back up predictions, test digs were made at representative points for each crop. Predictions, production and sales were analysed so as to pick up any trends or information that could provide additional support to growers for future production and provide valuable marketing information for the Grampian Growers Co-operative.
The project also tested a methodology which could increase the uptake of the Tuberzone technology. This methodology included support to growers, facilitated meetings and an interactive online database. The project provided growers with training to acquire the skills to make decisions for their own crops on the basis of Tuberzone data.
Using a combination of in field and remote meetings, combined with regular training sessions and grower updates, the project encouraged interaction and learning between the partners. Matthew, one of the farmers said “There was a huge benefit to having lots of different partners involved with the project because they all brought their own set of skills to the table.”
Post-harvest, the crop yield and size predictions from the model were compared to the harvested numbers. The pilot was successful for many of the farmers involved. One of the growers, explained that the model was very accurate: “I think we were only about 5% out, there are real practical benefits. It really helps us with our customers because then we are delivering what they want, and at the size they want it which has benefits for everyone in the supply chain.”
Initial scepticism towards the project gave way to optimism about the potential of this technology. Beyond the project, 10 of the growers are now using this model as a commercial service. Angus, another one of the growers “It has proven very accurate in the yield and size fraction predictions, I think this will be very valuable in the future.”
The project has increased grower awareness of the benefits of using remote sensing technology and software outputs in general as part of their crop-decision making process. Euan, one of the growers “As farmers and potato growers we put a lot of effort into what we do, so if we can maximise that by harnessing the technology it’s great”.
Also thanks to the project, a unique data set for these growers in this area growing this potato variety has been produced and can continue to be used as a benchmark. Although this pilot project was specifically aimed at Grampian Growers, this technology can be transferred to the whole potato sector. Furthermore, the knowledge gained by promoting rapid uptake of a new technology has the potential to reach to other sectors.
This Operational Group ran for over a year and ended in summer 2020, it has published its final report.
Tuberzone is continually being developed with in season potato dry matter estimates added since the project finished. Following 2020 crop experience, the Tuberzone target market has been refocused on interacting with growers through potato supply companies as they manage multiple crops of the same variety for the same end market, which allows large scale automation of the system.
Iain Riddell, SAC Consulting: email@example.com
Images: Tuberzone project