published: Thu, 07 Jan 2016
In the UK, around 4.6 million hectares (equivalent to about 6.5 million football pitches) of land is used for arable farming.
To rid crops of a disease, pest or weed, farmers typically treat an entire field with a crop protection chemical even if the problem is only found in a specific area. The “seeCrop” app from Intelligent Precision Farming (IPF) will enable the farmer to synchronise his field observations with software back in the office to create a variable rate chemical prescription for each field – so that exactly the right amount of chemicals are applied in the right location, saving time, money and unnecessary applications.
To increase yield, improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact farmers have been turning to satellite technology. Precision farming is based on the principle that all fields contain inherent variations in soil type, nutrient levels and crop productivity. Soil variation is digitally mapped using satellite instruments that measure the soil brightness – the reflectance of sunlight off the soil surface – to determine soil texture, organic matter and moisture content. This data is combined with soil sample analysis from the field and the farmer’s knowledge to create highly accurate soil management zones. Farmers then build ‘variable rate’ plans to accurately adjust levels of seed or fertiliser according to the soil zone. These prescription plans are digital files compatible with GPS on farm machinery, so that rates of inputs change automatically depending on where the tractor is in the field.
Using IPF’s current desktop “Toolbox”, farmers can monitor crop growth, accessing satellite imagery which measures light reflecting from the crop canopy in different wavebands. The difference between the bands indicates variation in crop health, vigour and biomass. Rather than looking at imagery from a desk, farmers are able to view the images on a tablet or smartphone, enabling them to walk the crop whilst looking at the satellite pictures telling them where there may be problem spots – IPF call this tool “eyeCrop”.
Whilst “eyeCrop” shows variations in the crop it doesn’t identify the possible causes of those differences. The new “seeCrop” app will combine satellite imagery with a smartphone or tablet’s inbuilt GPS receiver to enable farmers to not only view the images whilst crop walking, but also pin-point on the screen where specific problems occur and record what they are.
Cropping for the field will be pre-loaded in to “seeCrop” enabling the app to suggest what the cause of the problem might be. For example, when processing wheat it might suggest Blackgrass for ‘weed’, Yellow Rust or Septoria for ‘disease’ and slugs or aphids for ‘pest’, depending on the time of year. Once the farmer has selected the problem, they can then draw an area on the screen to show the location of the observation, and then repeat the process across all fields.
In the future, aggregated data from app users could show regional variations in disease and pest pressures as they develop – data which is not currently available in the UK. Farmers could then use this information to forecast potential problems and predict chemical requirements.
Speaking about their competition success, Max Dafforn says: “Winning the competition is great news for IPF and UK arable farmers. Feedback from farmers has identified a need for this product and the ESNC funding and business support means we can accelerate the delivery of “seeCrop”, allowing farmers to realise the benefits sooner. “seeCrop” represents a real breakthrough in targeted applications as well as disease and pest forecasting. We know “seeCrop” is going to have a huge impact on the UK arable sector and could revolutionise how crop protection products are applied. Now thanks to the ESNC we get the chance to develop it.”