Imagine taking a photo of your potato crop and receiving a forecast of its development – one company is using 30 years’ of data to do just that.
Paul Coleman knows a thing or two about spuds.
He’s spent more than three decades working in potato agronomy, variety development and research, and beyond the UK has been involved in work in North Africa, Spain, France, Holland and Germany.
Now he’s combining that knowledge with his data scientist co-founder, Dr Robert Allen, to create a powerful forecasting tool for potato growers, which predicts developments such as emergence dates, yields and tuber size.
Paul says the tool will help growers improve efficiencies, spot problems early, and maximise their marketable crop. The focus is on minimum [data] input but maximum insight, he explains.
“It came out of a frustration from seeing how the industry often bases its views on opinion, rather than data – which creates limited and biased perspectives.”
Frustrated, Paul and Dr Allen began collecting historical potato data and creating computer models – they soon realised they could develop useful forecasts.
“It was a bit of a revelation,” recalls Paul. “When I saw the power that [the modelling] could generate, the acorn of an idea formed.”
The pair spent two years working on the model and a year ago took the idea to Produce Investments, a major operator in UK potatoes and daffodils, which gave financial backing.
For more information, visit crop4sight.com
How does it work?
Crop4Sight forecasts the development of a specific potato crop based on variables such as seed variety, location, and planting date.
Growers use an online platform to input basic information, such as seed variety, field name, acreage, location and planting date.
Crop4Sight then uses 30 years’ worth of potato data to run computer calculations (algorithms). This produces a forecast for the grower, showing emergence date.
To gain more insight, the grower can add data each week by taking a photo of their potato field on their phone using the Crop4Sight app.
The photo is automatically uploaded to the platform, digitalised and analysed – they can then see how their ground cover compares to a reference crop and those of other anonymous growers on the platform.
A gage, like a petrol gage, helps with this benchmarking, so growers can see how their crop is performing against others.
Crop4Sight is also working on an easy way to upload tuber weight data during sample digs, to help predict their eventual size – something which is important when selling into some markets, such as for chips.
“Our aim is to increase the marketable yield for a particular field – and we think can increase this by 10%,” says Paul.
The tool has been designed for growers from small traditional farmers, to high tech, more market savvy growers. The company also hopes to offer additional support with an agronomic service.
“I think it will be a helpful tool for agronomists too,” says Mr Coleman, who envisages agronomists using the tool on behalf of farmers. He also believes the application could be useful for others in the chain, such as co-operatives, to help them forecast marketable crops. Farmers will always retain the rights to their data though.
Eighty-nine growers are currently testing the app, which will fully launch in the UK in December.
Crop4sight – Company facts
- Online and mobile app tool that helps potato growers forecast the development, yield and tuber size of their crop, to increase production efficiencies and marketable crop
- Growers track crop development using weekly photos taken on mobile app
- Computer algorithm uses 30 years’ worth of potato variety data to make forecasts
- Growers can benchmark their crop development
- Designed for range of farmers, agronomists and commercial uses
- Currently being tested by 89 British growers and agronomists
- Will launch in UK in December, and then expand to other European countries, before going global