Zach, of SAC Consulting - part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), was the project co-ordinator of the Tuberzone initiative, which trialled new precision agriculture tools to predict tuber size of seed and salad potatoes and an accurate burn down time for growers to maximise yield and profit margin.
As part of the 12-month Knowledge Transfer Innovation Fund (KTIF) project, SAC Consulting partnered with precision farming company SoilEssentials and farmer-owned cooperative Grampian Growers to support the uptake of the innovative Tuberzone potato technology among growers in the east of Scotland.
Zach said it was important to work collaboratively with all parties – including growers, tech providers, and marketing co-ops – to develop precision technology for farmers to adopt long-term.
“The flow of new technology into agriculture is exciting but we need to assure farmers that it will meet their needs.
“When there are many variables and cost implications, it’s important to select tools that are going to help your decision-making and your business’ bottom line.
“Part of SAC Consulting’s role has been to gauge more broadly how much support is required among farmers in taking on digital tools.
“We have gained a lot from this experience and it will help us in future projects as we guide farmers through the adoption of new technologies across all agricultural sectors.”
Zach Reilly, SAC Consulting
Using a combination of satellite imagery, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and GPS to monitor growth from crop emergence through the growing season to burn down, Tuberzone successfully predicted the graded-out size of Gemson, a salad potato variety owned by Grampian Growers, within 90 per cent accuracy, for the majority of growers.
Due to its dual-purpose characteristics, the balance between the seed fraction (25mm to 55m) of the crop and the proportion useable for the salad market (up to 45mm), is critical for the Gemson growers.
Currently, the only method is to make random test digs throughout the season and then weigh and measure the tubers manually. Growers are still strongly advised to carry out test digs, but Tuberzone can make these less frequent and better targeted in the field.
An unexpected bonus of the project was discovering GPS technology could be used to target the best location for test digs. By taking variables into consideration, this gives a more accurate prediction of field-scale yields and allows growers to build up field data for use later in the season and in subsequent years.
The predictive calculations can be made by Tuberzone once emerged plant numbers and the rate of canopy development are combined with data on the soils across the field and the all-important supply of water during the growing season.
The raw data is not enough on its own, however, and it must be stored and evaluated. Central to the KTIF project, funded by Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP), has been for growers to learn how to input information to SoilEssentials’ cloud-based system and to retrieve meaningful results.