Crops and Soil

Focussing on the need to improve, sustain and protect our land, Agri-EPI explores and delivers precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across crops and soil. Supporting growers, retails, researchers, scientists and agronomists. Discover innovation and new technology that is leading the way to improvements in crops and soil in the UK and around the world.

Positive impact Aquapulse Water Technology on grown produce

For many farmers and growers, the use of chemical inputs is the largest contribution to their carbon footprint. Aquapulse water technology enables reduced inputs, results in better quality produce naturally, and improves water efficiency. It allows growers to achieve enhanced white root development, more consistent batch colour, and better quality produce whilst using reduced inputs, and less water.

Dr. Hugh Martin, formerly Head of Agricultural Science at the Royal Agricultural University, wrote an independent academic paper on Aquapulse water technology. This article brings forward the highlights of that study.

AquapulseWhat is Aquapulse?

Aquapulse technology provides naturally clean water lines, promoting healthy bird development, less maintenance & reduced or eliminated chemical use

  • Aquapulse is a totally natural technology utilising Feldspar minerals contained in a food grade stainless steel cartridge
  • The cartridge can be simply immersed to treat water
  • Plants irrigated with Aquapulse treated water show positive physiological growth changes to roots and fruiting

Main benefits for growers

Using Aquapulse can deliver:

  • Enhanced crop yield
  • Improved quality of produce
  • More consistent batch colour
  • Crisper fruit & vegetables
  • Reduced chemical input
  • Reduced water consumption
  • Extended post picking shelf

Initial water technology trials

Design of full trials NIAB were commissioned to design and perform scientifically robust and statistically verifiable trials on three crops: dwarf beans, maize and capsicum. The trials were overseen and reported by Dr. Hugh Martin, formerly Head of Agricultural Science at the Royal Agricultural University.

Positive impact plant species

Aquapulse has a physiological and morphological impact on specific plant species (more marked in capsicum and maize, less evident in dwarf beans):

  1. Increased fruit yield in capsicum
  2. Increased root mass in capsicum and maize
  3. Change in the root:shoot balance, with a greater proportion of growth in roots
  4. There is evidence of advancement in the rate of development of flowering and fruiting.

Water technology treatment follow-up

Additional scientific evaluation is required to further understand the exact mechanism of Aquapulse treated water on plants. This will focus on physiological and morphological impacts on plants and the mechanisms at play. The work will focus on the following objectives:

  1. Identify specific species that Aquapulse has the greatest impact on
  2. Identify economic benefits in high-value crops
  3. Identify opportunities to reduce agricultural inputs (water, crop protection agents, fertilizers)
  4. Optimise the application of Aquapulse in a farming environment

How can Agri-EPI help?

For more information about the Aquapulse Water Technology, this research or other water and sustainability solutions, please contact our support team via team@agri-epicentre.com.

A Dark Horse on the crop sensing scene?

An Agri-EPI-supported trial of a new crop monitoring service has delivered promising results for Niall Jeffrey of Bielgrange Farm in East Lothian, Scotland.

Bielgrange comprises 350Ha of lowland arable land and 240Ha of hill with a beef herd running between both. As part of Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm programme, Niall is helping develop and evaluate Dark Horse Technologies’ service, which uses satellite and drones to monitor crops, diagnose growth problems and predict yield.

Dark Horse’s prediction of yield from Niall’s field of second winter wheat was accurate to within less than 0.5% – and they did it without setting foot on his farm.

Niall said:

“We chose a difficult field for the trial where the crop was poorly established. The open canopy enabled weeds to establish which we could not treat without damaging the crop. Dark Horse remotely programmed a drone mission. All I had to do was go to the field and press start then, when it finished the mission, upload the memory card online to Dark Horse. We initially predicted a yield of around 8 tonnes and revised this throughout the growing season as Dark Horse showed us how things were progressing.

Dark Horse’s ultimate prediction – made three weeks before harvest– was 6.4 T/ha and the actual result was 6.43 T/ha. Going forward, the prediction could help me with the management of harvest storage and forward selling. We were impressed with the accuracy of the results. I’m intrigued to see what else it can do.”

Dark Horse Technologies promotes its service as being different from other forms of crop analysis because it goes beyond pure spectral analysis and incorporates specific spatial and temporal analysis of the crops.

Jared Bainbridge, Founder and Chief Executive of Dark Horse Technologies said:

“What we were able to achieve with Niall is a great example of our service. Feature analysis allows us to monitor the geometric growth trajectory of each plant in the field over time. We can gauge each individual plant’s performance to understand the ideal size and shape of a crop at any point in its life cycle and can benchmark each plant’s performance.

Our service is designed so that it can be delivered with factory issued drones you can buy off-the-shelf. We’re not a drone company but an advanced crop imaging company. We are capable of combining multiple sources of data and imagery such as satellite, drone, mobile, sensor and ground-truth data; into a proprietary model capable of predicting yield and mapping crop-loss events with a high degree of accuracy. We are also able to integrate with existing on-farm machines to ensure sprayers target the areas of the field which need the most help, saving time and money.”

Niall and Dark Horse and now preparing for more trials, including a field scale seed treatment trial and the measurement of grass output from a paddock grazing system for cattle next summer.

Gavin Dick, Agri-EPI’s Head of Farms said:

“This kind of trial is what our satellite farm network is all about: bringing together farmers with the developers of next generation technologies and techniques to develop and evaluate new ways of supporting producers’ efficiency and productivity.”

Improving wheat yield predictions with crop image technology

Novel applications developed by researchers at BioSense Institute in Serbia are dedicated to make deep learning technology a widely accepted practice in agriculture, providing small and big farm holders to benefit from precision farming technology.

BioSense, the Serbian Research and Development Institute for Information Technologies in Biosystems, is a multidisciplinary research institute for agriculture of the future. The wheat yield prediction research conducted in Serbia aims to increase the collection of farm management data, help farmers understand more about their farm business by using sensor technology and IoT applications, and reduce farm labour.

Wheat yield experiments

Wheat is one of the most important crop types in food production worldwide. Due to increasing food demand and rising population, it is necessary to boost production and supplies of wheat and other cereals.

In 2019, BioSense Institute, observed wheat in different experimental field stages and did this for three consecutive seasons. Cameras used during the experiment were the FLIR SC620 in season one and two, and a thermal camera in the third season. By taking pictures of the wheat growing in their field (four weeks before harvest), and uploading it through a mobile application, farmers were able to gain information about the wheat yield estimate based on the current state of growth.

The objective of this research is to enable the farmer to use imagery to detect at an earlier stage when estimated yields are below average and timely apply agronomic treatments to improve yield.

Farm efficiency with data management

The automatization of ear density calculation (number of ears per unit ground area, usually 1m2), which is one of the main agronomic yield components in determining grain yield in wheat, can provide fast evaluation of this attribute and potentially save 200 hours of manual work, ease monitoring, and increase crop management practice efficiency. This will save money from potential yield reduction, which can cause big losses in the farmers’ investments.

The currently used process of yield prediction includes manual and tedious work. The farmer takes samples from the area of 1m2 from the field (if the field is larger, then from a few locations within a field), and measures the biomass. The next step is to separate and count the ears of wheat manually. Since the counting of one sample requires up to 1 hour, while the number of samples can easily exceed 200, this can result in more than 200 working hours, or two to three weeks of manual labour that could be avoided.

The collected dataset comprises RGB and thermal images. Thermal images give us information about the difference in temperature between the ears and their background through their colouring and ease ear detection. Images were taken in four dates on two locations in two stages of wheat growth.

Power of deep learning

Since we have witnessed a huge breakthrough of neural networks, especially in image processing, deep learning has greatly outperformed classical models and algorithms. The nature of deep learning is that the addition of more data improves the quality of results, so by uploading images from farmers (crowd sourcing), the initial database will be expanded, so the algorithm will achieve better and more accurate results.

For more information about the methodologies used in this research by BioSense Institute, visit the DRAGON website.

 

Photo gallery:

 

Data-driven precision agriculture by DRAGON

Agri-EPI Centre is a core partner within the data-driven agriculture services and skill acquisition project DRAGON. The aim of the project is to enable communication skill transfer and knowledge exchange between research organisations and end users through big data and effective data analytics.

 

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This article is an extract from an article of Željana Grbović – Junior Researcher, BioSense Institute – published on www.datadragon.eu.

Head of Farm Network Gavin Dick Reflects on Harvest

As harvest nears completion across the country and minds begin to focus on autumn drilling, it’s time to begin to reflect on the harvest and current growing season and start to assimilate areas to focus on at the in-depth review which should be taking place later in the year.

It has been another challenging growing season resulting in a lot of variation in yields across the country, between farms and within fields – this pattern has repeated itself over a few years now and you have to wonder if this is the new normal? If it is, how sustainable is it? How long can we sit back and accept that it’s just the weather and we can’t do anything about it?

Adopting harvest technology

Not much longer, I suspect. We have to take a pro-active approach and start measuring that variation early in the production cycle and trying to understand why that area in the field is yielding less than other areas – the technology is there to help, from satellite imagery to soil probes measuring compaction, moisture and a range of other factors.

Improving yield

It may be that there is no solution to improving the yield in a particular area and if so, then it is important to have an idea what the yield will actually be, giving a more accurate production figure for the farm. This makes marketing more effective in that you can sell more forward if the price is high without the risk of over committing and being penalised. You can accept the lower average yield but mitigate with a higher average price – the BioSense app is a good example of emerging technology which will deliver the detailed information to allow this.

By the same measure you should also know your Costs of Production applied to that lower yielding area to judge whether you should have drilled it at all!

Crop quality

The other variation is crop quality – we currently look at the average protein across the whole wheat field (or even the crop!) and that contributes to whether we get a milling premium or not. Technology now measures protein on the combine so that each trailer load will have a specific protein content which can then be stored separately and/or blended to increase the proportion of the crop receiving the milling premium.

The days of managing farm businesses by measuring averages are limited and farm business managers will have to adopt technology which allows management by measuring absolutes, facilitating better informed decision making through the growing season.

So as the drills are made ready, take a pause to look at satellite images, drone footage, yield maps, ground sensors, mobile apps or whatever measures you have, identify the variations and go have a look to see what’s going on.

Best thing you can do is still to get out your Soil Porosity & Aeration Determination Equipment!

 


Gavin Dick

Gavin has a broad working experience in agriculture, having managed a large farming enterprise in Aberdeenshire including combinable crops, seed potatoes, pigs, poultry and 650 dairy cows producing milk for ice-cream through a robotic milking system. He then moved to manage an estate in Perthshire specialising in pedigree beef and combinable crops, as well as a country house hotel with shooting and fishing interests. Gavin worked at SAC before moving to AHDB where he worked with farmers in a Knowledge Exchange role to broaden their business management skills and, as he joined Agri-EPI, oversees all Satellite Farm Network activity.

Grain ‘swimming’ robot offers solution to global food loss

New Innovate UK-funded project tackling the global problem of post-harvest grain losses

Poor Autumn planting conditions, a Spring drought and the recent heavy rains have led to a very difficult UK harvest. And the challenges don’t end once grain is in store – uncontrolled temperature and moisture levels can lead to pests and mould which, due to the notoriously difficult task of monitoring the condition of stored grain, contribute to global post-harvest grain losses of more than 20%.

Now, a new Innovate UK-funded project is tackling the problem. Technology start-up Crover Ltd, Agri-EPI Centre and East of Scotland Farmers have teamed up to develop the first robotic robot able to safely sample grain bulks at various depths and while still in storage, where existing methods cannot. Each one of the robotic devices, called the “Crover”, is expected to be able to save a total of 380 tonnes of grain (wheat and barley) every year.

Grain robot

Over the next 18 months, the grain robot Crover will be trialled at the East of Scotland Farmers co-operative in Perth & Kinross, at a farm in Northumberland and within Agri-EPI’s network of partner farms. The project is being supported with £250,000 of Innovate UK funding.

Lorenzo Conti, Crover’s Managing Director, explained:

“Post-harvest losses have serious financial impacts for cereal storage sites such as farms, grain merchants, millers and breweries. But they also have significant social and environmental consequences, which are becoming ever more even more pressing due to threats such as increasing global food demand, intense price volatility, and harvest unpredictability due to climate change. Four and a half billion people per year are exposed to dangerous mycotoxins from grain moulds which contaminate 25% of the world’s food supply. The carbon footprint from cereal storage losses equates to 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions from food waste.

“Like a plane’s wings in air, or a boat’s rotor in water, the patented technology behind our Crover robot allows it to fluently “swim” through bulk solids, like cereals and grains, monitoring their condition while they are still in storage and without leaving any grain unchecked. Our aim is to improve grain storage systems, helping to build the resilience of the grain supply chain and the wider global food system.”

Unlike current grain solutions that can only reach near the surface pose a safety hazard to operators collecting the samples, Crover’s remote probing device will be able to autonomously collect samples throughout the whole silo/shed. This gives early detection of potential spoilage allowing steps to be taken to reduce losses and maintain quality.

Dave Ross, Chief Executive of Agri-EPI Centre said:

“Cereal grains are the basis of staple food, yet post-harvest losses during long-term storage are significant and high. Through this new and very exciting collaboration, the partners will blend their technological and industry expertise to investigate how grain robot Crover can respond to that challenge by working effectively in commercial grain storage sites, with potentially huge benefits to the agri-food industry and wider society.”

Robin Barron, General Manager of East of Scotland Farmers said:

“We have a special interest in obtaining representative samples from silos and stores full of malting barley, so that we can accurately assess their recovery from dormancy before being dispatched to maltster customers.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centre Policy Lead said:

“Innovate UK is pleased to have been able to support this innovative and exciting project. It has the potential to deliver significant impact in terms of improving food safety and security as well as helping to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. “

In this video, the project partners explain the technology and project impact:

More information

For further information or interviews, please contact Jane Smernicki, Agri-EPI Centre Communications Manager on 07985 691 765 or jane.smernicki@agri-epcentre.com.

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.

Agri-EPI lends expertise for Barclays soil health webinars

Understanding soil health

Agri-EPI Projects and Technical Manager, Freddie Reed, will be speaking at one of three Barclays Eagle Labs’ webinars focusing on soil on Wednesday 13 May at 18.00.

Freddie will be offering insight into how sensors and testing have the potential to help farmers improve soil health.

Freddie said:

“Technology has the potential to help us understand much more about what is going on in our soil. The more we understand the more important we realise our soil is for both environmental sustainability and productivity.

“I’ll be looking at the new sensors, tests and technologies are coming over the horizon to help farmers improve their soil health and explaining what the Agri-EPI Satellite Farm Network is doing in this important space.”

Barclays’ national network of Eagle Labs supports individuals, businesses and corporates innovate and grow, across a broad range of different sectors, including Agri-Tech. Agri-EPI collaborates with the Eagle Labs agri-tech team in a number of areas.

In addition to the soil sensors event on 13th May, a virtual meeting on 20th May will look at cover crops and healthy soil, while the third session on 27th May explores carbon sequestration.

To find our more visit: labs.uk.barclays/events.

More about Barclays Eagle Labs and P.E.S Technologies

Barclays Eagle Labs
Eagle Labs is building a platform to connect the UK’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to drive digital skills development to help grow the economy through innovation and change. Barclays is on a mission to help make the UK the best place to start and grow innovative businesses by promoting creativity and entrepreneurship. Through our activities, we create opportunities for individuals and businesses of all sizes to access a broad range of skills to support this mission. Eagle Labs also support the transformation of businesses, industries and larger organisations through the delivery of structured innovation programming and access to new and emerging technologies. Read more: https://labs.uk.barclays.

P.E.S Technologies
A real-time, precision soil health analysis solution using advanced sensor technology which assesses emissions of volatile organic compounds. PES’ technology allows farmers to gain a clear understanding of their soil health and improve soil yields. Read more: http://pestechnologies.com.

Stay informed

Keep up to date with the latest impact and results of our work, plus, news, innovation and approaches across the sector. Read our latest news and Agri-EPI blogs.