Potato growers dig the latest smartphone technology

New smartphone tech could give potato producers better data on their crop yields. Picture: Johnston Press
New smartphone tech could give potato producers better data on their crop yields. Picture: Johnston Press
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While the world of high-tech wizardry tends to conjure up images of drones crowding the sky as driverless tractors till the fields below, two of the latest developments in this area for tattie growers require nothing more exotic than a mobile phone.

As part of the smart farming project, a software-based potato yield model that has been developed jointly by agridata centre Agrimetrics and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) is aimed at giving farmers reliable predictions on a crop’s likely yield and value via their smartphones.

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The developers claim that using these devices to collect information about planting date and emergence along with field images of the crop canopy taken with the phone’s camera can help growers get a better idea of what is happening under the soil.

“Decades of science and field experience are being made available in a user-friendly way,” said ­Professor Mario Caccamo of Agrimetrics.

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He said that until recently canopy cover was estimated using quadrats and the potato plants were repeatedly sampled to determine the size distribution of potatoes and the data recorded by hand.

However, the wider availability of camera phones and the increased use of data available from aerial images meant that a reliable prediction of yield could now be given in a straightforward and non-invasive way.

“And for packers that have contracts with a several growers and who need to fulfil orders from the supermarkets, estimate of yield improves forecasting and will allow alternative arrangements to be made in plenty of time if there looks to be a shortfall in supply,” said Caccamo.

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Smartphone cameras could also be set to play a key role in reducing the need for tests digs to decide when to harvest a crop.

PotatoSize, an app that has just been released following a joint venture between the James Hutton Institute, James Hutton Limited and Agrovista, claims to offer the opportunity to replace the laborious riddling and counting procedure used to estimate tuber sizes with a simple automated analysis of an image of tubers obtained from the test dig.

“This type of analysis is a vital component to allow growers to manage burn down/haulm destruction strategies to ensure market requirements are achieved,” said Lewis McKerrow, Agrovista’s head of precision technology.

He said the mobile app allows quick and easy assessment of crop statistics, including crop weight in 5mm size bands, estimated crop weight per area (eg t/ha) and an easy-to-read bar graph of size bands. He added: “This ­level of detail provides growers with the information they need.”

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