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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.

Boosting the uptake of Precision Agriculture in Serbia

The limited adoption of precision agriculture is causing a lag in productivity in the sector – something which Agri-EPI is trying to alter through its involvement with the DRAGON project in Serbia. 

The three-year project aims to increase the adoption of precision agriculture technologies, practices and strategies by upskilling and educating young researchers in both hard and soft skills. Funded by H2020, it’s a consortium of four partnersBioSense, a Serbian University that cross-fertilizes two most promising sectors in Serbia: ICT and agriculture, recognising that ICT today plays a pivotal role in ensuring sustainable, smart and inclusive growth of agriculture. The other partners in the project are Agri-EPI Centre, Strathclyde University and Wageningen University in The Netherlands. 

At the end of November, Agri-EPI’s CTO, Shamal Mohammed, attended a four-day training school at the BioSense Institute in Serbia, to sit on the B2B panel. He was joined by Jim Wilson at SoilEssentials, who delivered a talk on online precision farming platform KORE, and Ben Scott-Robinson at the Small Robot Company, who spoke about AI driven robotic services for farming. 

The training school has presented students with technical information about innovation in agriculture, agri-tech and applied science solutions on farm, while also demonstrating how to present and profile research. 

Through further organised trips to the Netherlands and the UK over the course of the project, it is expected that skills and expertise will be transferred to BioSense researchers. The longterm outcome of the project will help them improve their capability to communicate practical big data knowledge across the supply chain and to the non-scientific community.  

For more information about DRAGON, please visit the website: www.datadragon.eu/.  

World-class agri-tech in Africa

Establishing trust between farmers and investors

GRID tool

An innovative digital farming system is helping to increase yields across thousands of hectares of farmland in southern Africa while also creating new jobs locally and in the UK.

AgSpace Agriculture’s new GRID system gives farmers access to the most advanced agricultural satellite mapping and analysis available, backed by independent agronomic advice. The information helps producers to make better management decisions and allows them to offer evidence of their crops’ performance to financial providers to gain access to credit and insurance.

Partners GRID

GRID was developed under a two-year European Space Agency-backed project involving AgSpace, Agri-EPI Centre and RHIZA. It is the first tool on the market specifically allowing farmers and financial providers to track crop performance.

Agri-Tech in Africa

There has been rapid uptake of the product following its launch earlier this year. It is now operational in nine African countries, and involves financial providers including Standard Bank. Further expansion is predicted to create up to 775 jobs between the UK and Africa by 2024.

AgSpace Director, Vince Gillingham, said:

“Some 80% of the African workforce makes a living from agriculture but many are crippled by a lack of access to financial products to develop their businesses. Price fluctuations for inputs and products, along with crop failure, due to pests, diseases, temperature or variable rainfall, hold the entire agricultural ecosystem back. 

“It is very difficult for credit providers to measure risk in the face of such variables without good data from farmers. GRID offers a precision data-driven opportunity for overcoming this barrier, giving providers the evidence and confidence they need to support farmers in increasing yields, growing their farms and ultimately contributing to wider economic development.”

GRID uses high resolution satellite data to monitor crop performance while providing local weather data for every farm on an hourly basis. It provides soil mapping and soil health monitoring, supports fertiliser planning for increased efficiency and higher yields and calculates yield predictions.

Farmers access agronomy advice by smart phone to improve production while financial providers use the same satellite data to monitor crop performance and build a clear picture of each farm, whatever its size and however remote.

Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre CEO said:

“We are delighted to have contributed to the emerging success of the GRID product. By using our company assets, including our database of high-resolution earth observation data, combined with analytics, this has enabled the optimal refinement of the system, which has now moved rapidly to a commercial offering. We are particularly pleased that Agri-EPI has assisted in the near-future prospect of up to 1000 jobs shared between the UK and Africa. This makes a valuable contribution from Agri-EPI input and continues to show evidence of world-class agri-tech solutions from the UK being exported around the globe.”

Francesco Feliciani, Head of the Commercial Applications Section of ESA, added:

“We are proud for having hosted the development and validation of the GRID service as part of our Integrated Applications Programme. We are convinced that GRID is a game changer in supporting farmers and associated financial services to understand the performance of farming businesses virtually everywhere in the world. This is key especially in times challenged by extreme weather events.

We have directly witnessed how the GRID service is used by farming companies in Africa, and we are fascinated by its capability to turn complex datasets and analytics into easy to understand information through a very intuitive and appealing user interface.”

More information

For further information about GRID, please download the GRID information brochure or contact Vincent Gillingham, AgSpace Director.

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Technology meets farming for better management

Partners beef monitors:
Partners Beef Monitor: Agri-EPI Centre, Ritchie Ltd and Scotbeef

As UK farmers face huge changes in their business environment, making precision all the more critical, Agri-EPI Centre is working with them to develop technologies that help to banish guess work from management decisions.

One of the four Centres for Agricultural Innovation established by Innovate UK through the UK government’s Agri-Tech Strategy, Agri-EPI has teamed up with 28 innovative farms, covering commodities including beef, dairy, sheep, arable, pigs, potatoes and root crops. The purpose of these ‘satellite’ farms is to allow new technologies and techniques to be developed and trialled in commercial farming environments.

One of the farms is Bielgrange in East Lothian, owned and run by Niall Jeffrey, AgriScot’s 2018 Scotch Beef Farmer of the Year. Niall has been at the forefront of trialling new Beef Monitor crates developed by Ritchie Agricultural in conjunction with Agri-EPI.

These are effectively modified handling crates with an integrated water trough, which cattle enter voluntarily to drink, indoors or outdoors. As they do so, the crates’ inbuilt sensors record the daily live weight of each animal. With the correct analysis, this daily data can be hugely beneficial in helping a farmer make speedy decisions to reduce costs and ensure animals are delivered to Scotbeef in-spec. Scotbeef monitors the impact of using beef monitor units on carcass specifications.

The Beef Monitors have gone through several phases of development as a result of the on-farm trials and this will continue during 2019, with a view to increasing the type of data that can be collected. The important element, says Agri-EPI Centre’s Farms and Commercial Manager Gavin Dick, is that the beef monitor concept has been shown to work. Gavin explained:

“Farmers are having to adapt to huge changes in their business operating environment, meaning there is now a much greater need for live and detailed management information that allow them to better-informed decisions. The Beef Monitor has already proven to be an ideal vehicle for starting the process of gathering such information, potentially giving beef farmers key information significantly earlier than the best stockperson could identify using their eyes and experience.”

“Now we know the cattle will happily enter the crates voluntarily and stress-free to drink, and we have had really important feedback from Niall and the other farmers trialling the Beef Monitors, this is where Agri-EPI really comes into its own. We are now assessing which of the many available sensor technologies – such as boluses, collars, anklets and even breath analysers – could further enhance data collection and analysis. Such tech is already being used on robotic milkers in the dairy industry so it’s time to see the beef sector catch up.”

Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre Chief Executive said:

“The satellite farms are a core element of our activities to bring productivity-boosting technology to UK farmers across all of the key farming sectors. Crucially, we work hard to create and enhance connections between the farming industry, science and commercial developers of new technologies. This is a critical time for UK farming and this multidisciplinary approach is the best means of identifying novel solutions.”

Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Innovation Lead for the Agri-Tech Centres added:

“In their short lifetime the four Agri-Tech Centres have engaged in a major capital build programme developing new high technology assets to drive forward the applied R&D capability in the UK to develop solutions to real world problems that the farming community face.

“The Agri-EPI satellite farm network is a good example of this, providing a unique environment where new technology can be trialled on farms, and the benefits demonstrated to farmers. Apart from the build programme, the four Agri-Tech Centres have to date already engaged with over 35,000 UK farmers, secured 46 projects worth £14.2 million to the research consortia, and £3.1 million to the Centres, created 98 high tech jobs, involved 192 organisations and several high-profile Government initiatives. These include Rural 5G Broadband. The success of the Agri-Tech Centres is being noticed overseas and already attracting a lot of interest from countries as far afield as Paraguay, New Zealand and China.” 

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.

Launch of South West Dairy Development Centre

Agri-EPI Centre has launched its state-of-the-art South West Dairy Development Centre in Somerset, which aims to offer a fresh vision for sustainable UK milk production.

The £1.36 million, 180-cow dairy unit provides a truly innovative environment for the development, testing and demonstration of new technologies and techniques to support sustainable, efficient and high health and welfare milk production.

The centre combines innovative building design and management systems to create a highly efficient, low cost dairy system, with the capital cost of developing the dairy from scratch amounting to less that £8,000 per cow. The centre’s remit is to offer a platform for industry to trial and review new ideas for the benefit of dairy farmers throughout the UK.

Duncan Forbes, Agri-EPI project manager for the new centre said:

Our mantra here is, ‘measure it to manage it’. Sensor technology is being used to gather data to enable us to maximise precision in many aspects of feeding, production, health and welfare across the farm: indoors and outdoors, by satellite, and on and inside the cows. The automation of many processes within the dairy releases skilled staff to devote more of their time to cow health and welfare.

Precision grazing is at the top of the centre’s agenda. While the number of robotic dairies in the UK continues to increase, and it is recognised that grass can be a least-cost feed for dairy herds, successful grazing has been difficult to implement on many robotic units.

The new centre aims to tackle this by using emerging technology such as hyperspectral imaging and satellite data to monitor and predict grass growth in its surrounding paddocks, allowing the herd access to up to three fresh areas of grazing per day. A network of tracks and flexible paddocks encourage cow flow between the between the paddocks and the robot milkers.

A number of trials are already underway or planned for the centre. It is one of three UK ‘testbeds’ for the 5G RuralFirst project, the UK’s most ambitious connectivity project. Led by Cisco and involving a consortium of partners it aims to demonstrate how connectivity will benefit rural communities and business across the UK. A number of technologies utilising 5G data are to be trialled, including cow collars, monitoring health and welfare, digital systems to monitor cow fertility through milk analysis and, in the future, a ‘virtual vet’ system connecting stockpeople to a vet using augmented reality.

The South West Dairy Development Centre has been established in close partnership with independent dairy specialists Kingshay, who manage the facility. The Centre has been established by Agri-EPI using funding from Innovate UK and support from industry partners.

Welcoming the Centre’s launch today at an event attended by figures from industry, academia and government, Ian Cox, Innovate UK’s Agri-Tech Centres Innovation Lead, said:

The new South West Dairy Centre fits very well with Innovate UK’s vision to support the development and adoption of new technologies to help UK farming become more sustainable, efficient and profitable. It is good that the new centre is now operational and we hope it will become a central resource for use by the UK dairy industry.

Demonstration of positive effects of Precision Soil Mapping

Agri-EPI Centre hosted a Precision Soil Mapping Showcase Event to demonstrate how Precision Soil Mapping can take precision farming to the next level. The project, in conjunction with AgSpace, IPF, Cranfield University and James Hutton Institute, is near completion. This event presented the commercial benefits of the projects. Specifically, how it can lower the entry cost to precision farming making it more viable for a wider community.

The challenge

The benefits of precision farming, dividing land into management zones according to soil characteristics, has been proven to yield better results when compared to conventional farming. The perceived high entry cost into precision farming has long been a barrier to entry for some smaller arable farmers.

Agri-EPI Centre held a number of workshops over the country in conjunction with LEAF and Innovative Farmers to gain feedback on the development of the precision soil map and identify areas of future development in the wider precision farming industry. These events were held at Agri-EPI Satellite Farms across the country each with a specific focus such as conventional arable, mixed farming and organic farming.

Read more information about the Soil Mapping project here.

If you would like to know more about the outcomes of the project or this event, please contact us via enquiries@agri-epicentre.com.

Collaboration partners

Precision Soil Mapping Showcase event August 2018 partners

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.

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