Field trials conducted during the 2017 growing season in the UK have shown how the use of smart technology, combined with training and greater supply chain collaboration, can help maximise crop yields.
The work, undertaken in East Anglia, also highlighted how early intervention can help prevent produce falling outside of specifications; one of the most significant causes of crop rejection in primary production.
The trials involved 14 potato growers from ASDA’s Integrated Procurement & Logistics (IPL) fresh produce business, and sustainability experts WRAP. The project followed the potatoes from sowing in 2017 through to harvest and storage into 2018, and saw participating farms grow a combination of salad and fresh potato crops using Belana, Nectar and Maris Piper varieties, which were sold in ASDA stores.
The trials helped to increase yields by providing growers with critical information on the development of crops earlier than normal, this was achieved through greater monitoring and measurement throughout the season. Dedicated training was provided prior to planting on best practice in crop management techniques, and collaborative support was given throughout the trials.
Growers were also instructed in the use of the Potato Yield Model developed by NIAB to give key yield data as early as possible. This smart technology allows farmers to forecast the total and graded potato yields ahead of harvest. The Model uses real time visual imagery and historical data from commercial crops to provide a forecast up to ten weeks before harvest. The early insight helped inform decisions around supply and demand for both the farmer and supply chain, and guide decisions around key actions such as when to stop the crop growing.
The findings of the research have been published in a new report from WRAP, Improving performance in the fresh potato supply chain, along with a series of recommendations around standardising crop yield measurement in primary production.
Whilst farm-specific factors such as weather and soil type will explain some differences, WRAP believes this variation points to widescale differences in grower productivity across the UK, and that the training and technology interventions trialled with ASDA IPL could help improve crop yields further afield, and maximise the volume of produce meeting client specifications for many more growers. Peter Maddox, Director at WRAP, “Improving crop yields without putting added stress on the environment is what everyone wants, and these trials show that closer monitoring and more standardised measurement can make that happen. We want more growers and their customers to look into the details of how this can be applied to their operations.”
WRAP found considerable willingness by participants to incorporate the measuring regimes tested into their future operations, with feedback showing more than 80% considered making changes to the way they operate as a result of their experience.
Ian Harrison, IPL’s Technical Director, said “At IPL, we are really interested to see how yields can be improved and better predicted ahead of pack-out in our facilities. Any tool that can reduce uncertainty in our supply chain gives a huge benefit to our planning and operations, and the work WRAP are undertaking should give a common approach across the industry.”
Photo by Lars Blankers on Unsplash