Plaudits for precision potato predictor

FARMERS could produce more salad and seed potatoes thanks to a new way to predict the size of their crop while it’s still buried in the soil.

The “Tuberzone” project used the global positioning system (GPS), satellite images, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor potato plants as they grew.

It predicted the size of Gemson – a salad potato variety owned by farming cooperative Grampian Growers – with 90% accuracy.

At the moment, the only way for farmers to predict the size of their final crop is to make random test digs throughout the season and then weigh and measure the tubers manually.

While growers are still strongly advised by the cooperative to carry out test digs, the Tuberzone project means tests can be carried out less frequently and can be better targeted in the field.

Farms from Aberdeen, Angus and the Black Isle took part in the study, with Grampian Growers teaming up with SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), and Brechin-based company SoilEssentials.

Once farmers are ready to harvest their seed and salad potatoes, they need to “burn down” the “haulm” or stalk to stop the plant growing.

Jim Wilson, managing director of SoilEssentials, said: “The challenge of seed and salad potato production is knowing exactly when to stop the crop growing and a few days either way can make a big difference to the total value of the crop.

“Tuberzone allows us to see what is going on under the ground and aids the decision on haulm destruction by giving an individual yield and size distribution for each crop over the next two weeks.

“This helps in deciding what date the crop needs to be burned down, taking into account the forecast weather conditions and how quickly the other potato crops are developing.”

Money for the project came from the Scottish Rural Development Programme’s Knowledge Transfer Innovation Fund.

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