One company is taking soil analysis to the next level, using data and 30,000 lines of code to calculate the needs of soil for a specific crop and market.
“I’m a sort of adventurous geek – I love all things science, nature and environmental,” says Simon Fox. “I make it my business to know and read everything.”
This hunger led to a duel career as a soil scientist and software engineer – which proved perfect for developing OptiYield.
The platform provides a sophisticated soil analysis, using 27 points of data and 30,000 lines of computer code (which Simon has written himself), to calculate a soil’s nutrient needs based on the specific crop and market the grower is producing for.
Rather than just the nutrients present in the soil, OptiYield shows the nutrients available to the plant – resulting in better and more targeted nutrient applications.
For growers, this will save money and resources, boost yields and crop quality in terms of aesthetics, disease resistance, nutrient value and even shelf life, he explains.
Savings will also reduce pollution and CO2 emissions.
The tool is the culmination of Simon’s life-time’s investigation of the relationship between soils, nutrients, nutrient availability and crop development, kick-started by his first job as a fresh-faced soil scientist in Swaziland in the 1970s.
Here, he stumbled on a problem – Soil analysis techniques did not show nutrients available, only nutrients present, and were therefore not very useful for farmers.
This was the case for almost every nutrient – and little has changed since the 1960s, he adds.
“The bottom line is that soil analysis as conducted not only in the UK but worldwide is broken – even Defra themselves admit soil analysis for certain nutrients is ineffective or unreliable.”
“Things need to move on. Crop yields have remained almost static for 20 years despite increased uses of technology – crop nutrition is an important part of the reason why.
“Food production will need to increase and we need to do this without using more land, and without increasing fertiliser use.”
How it works
A farmer takes a soil sample and provides OptiYield with information on crop, variety, target yield and market qualities they are seeking.
The soil undergoes an extended analysis in an independent lab, with results fed into the OptiYield database.
Using these, information from 2,000 published research papers on soil and crop science, and information from the grower, OptiYield’s algorithms produce a ‘Nutrient Availability Model’.
This gives the grower foliar and soil nutrient recommendations based on their desired outcomes.
For example, if the grower is producing salad potatoes, OptiYield will make recommendations for achieving a large number of small potatoes.
OptiYield can do this for 35 world crops, from potatoes to bananas. So far, Simon has focused on high-value crops, but next year will expand into arable crops.
The company also provides recommended programmes of bio-stimulants (switch genes on and off in plants, inducing stress-resistance to maximise their yield) and soil microbes.
Using the company’s programme, some customers have reported 25% yield increases after just one growing season.
One customer, a major UK carrot grower, saw yields increase 20%, carrot spot decrease, and mineral content of the crop increase 40%.
OptiYield currently has 40 customers, ranging in size from family farms to large commercial units.
For more information visit www.emeraldcropscience.com
Company Facts: OptiYield
- Modernises soil analysis, providing nutrient available information, rather than just nutrient present
- Specialist lab testing provides detailed data which is fed into the OptiYield platform.
- Using 30,000 lines of code, data from 2000 published research papers, and information from the grower about crop type and market, an algorithm calculates a ‘Nutrient Availability Model’
- Provides a programme of soil microbes and bio-stimulants (stimulate more vigorous plant growth)
- Customers have reported 25% yield increases, better disease resistance, and improved nutrient content of product
- 40 customers currently – hard launch November
- Covers 35 worldwide crops, but plans to expand. Applicable to all soils.