Advances in crop sensing using military technology have seen a major leap towards eliminating potato food waste.
The TuberScan system uses radar, GPS units and an in-field camera to survey potato fields throughout the growing season. It is based on field-based technologies originally developed for the military – reapplying the knowledge and tools to the arable farming environment.
Developed by B-Hive Innovations, TuberScan assesses crops above and below ground. It is funded by Innovate UK’s Research and Innovation scheme – working with Branston, Harper Adams and Manchester University.
TuberScan project manager Effie Warwick-John said: “Potato growing is not precision agriculture so it can be challenging for growers to understand the performance of the whole crop underground. With TuberScan we are trying to address this lack of clarity.”
Cutting-edge technology yielded better results than the current practice of random sampling followed by data extrapolation to cover the field, said Ms Warwick-John. Random samplying did not always account for variance within the crop and could lead to inaccuracies in forecasting.
“We want to empower growers with meaningful data-led insights to make better-informed management decisions based on potato size, count and variation,” said Ms Warwick-John. All these choices could ultimately make or break a crop’s marketable yield.
“When developed, TuberScan will help growers to more confidently identify areas of poor performance, when to make all-important burndown decisions, and where growers should target inputs of fertilizer or irrigation.”
Vidyanath Gururajan, B-Hive managing director, said the goal was to reduce potato and energy waste, increase the crop’s marketable yield, enhance its quality and add value for growers and fresh produce businesses.
“Placing actionable insights at the hands of growers to minimise wastage supports packers and retailers further along the supply chain and provides additional assurances on the quality of their potatoes, prior to hitting the shelves.
“By both understanding more closely what they will be harvesting and the opportunity to enhance marketable yield, farmers are better placed to market their produce, strengthen supply chain relationships and attain the best value based on their supply of potatoes and relative demand.”
B-Hive was working with growers to tailor the product to suit individual farm businesses, said Mr Gururajan. As the TuberScan technology evolved, further innovations could follow – including the development of precision-based equipment, such as intelligent sprayers.