Agri-tech company B-Hive Innovations is developing a digital tool that monitors potato crop development in real-time throughout the season.
The firm says it will produce data that will enable growers to make better management decisions to increase marketable yield and cut waste.
One of the big challenges for potato growers and agronomists is accurately understanding what is happening underground on a field scale.
Currently, those on the ground rely on random digs to sample tubers and assess things like yield, marketable size fraction and quality.
The data from these labour-intensive digs are then extrapolated to cover the whole field, but this does not always account for variability through the crop and can lead to inaccuracies in forecasting.
The Lincoln-based firm is aiming to solve this with cutting edge technology that will save time and provide more accurate data collection across the whole field with its TuberScan sensing tool.
In its current iteration, the TuberScan demonstration unit comprises radar, GPS units and an in-field camera that moves up and down rows to survey the crop throughout the growing season.
The project has utilised and adapted field-based technologies that were originally developed for the military – reapplying the knowledge and tools to the arable farming environment.
Essentially, it gives more meaningful, accurate data crop development metrics like on tuber size, count and variation across the field.
Once fully developed, it will help growers confidently identify areas of poor performance, when to commence burndown and where to target inputs like fertiliser or irrigation, according to project manager Effie Warwick-John.
“All these choices can ultimately make or break a crop’s marketable yield,” she adds.
The research and development project for TuberScan is funded by Innovate UK’s Research and Innovation scheme and B-Hive are working in collaboration with packer Branston, the University of Manchester and Harper Adams University.
B-Hive’s managing director Vidyanth Gururajan says the company’s aims are fourfold: reduce food and energy waste, increase marketable yield, enhance produce quality, and add value to farming fresh produce businesses.
He says placing actionable insights in the hands of growers to minimise wastage supports packers and retailers along the supply chain and provides additional assurances on the quality of potatoes before they hit the shelves.
“By both understanding more closely what they will be harvesting and the opportunity to enhance marketable yield, farmers are better placed to market their produce, strengthen supply chain relationships and attain the best value based on their supply of potatoes and relative demand.”
B-Hive is working closely with growers to tailor the product to overcome the issues they face on an individual and everyday basis.
As the TuberScan technology evolves, B-Hive hopes it will be a catalyst towards further innovations of precision-based equipment such as intelligent sprayers.
“B-Hive Innovations is constantly refining and developing new technologies – through ground-breaking collaborations – to increase the accessibility for intelligence-led planning to potato farmers of varying scope and scale.
“By improving marketable yield and reducing crop variation, this technology aims to ultimately reduce the carbon footprint in the potato supply chain,” adds Mr Gururajan.