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Cross-industry collaboration is essential to the adoption of precision technology in agriculture, said the project co-ordinator of a recently completed Knowledge Transfer Innovation Fund (KTIF) project

AF and FEAG SACPart of SAC Consulting’s role has been to gauge more broadly how much support is required among farmers in taking on digital tools. (Image source: Pexels/Pixabay)

The 12-month Tuberzone initiative, based in the East of Scotland, trialled new precision agriculture tools to predict tuber size of seed and salad potatoes and accurate burn down time for growers to maximise yield and profit margin.

SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), partnered with precision farming company SoilEssentials and farmer-owned cooperative Grampian Growers to support the uptake of the innovative Tuberzone potato technology among growers from Angus to Aberdeenshire to the Black Isle.

Project facilitator Zach Reilly of SAC Consulting said that the value of projects like these is working collaboratively with all parties with a vested interest – the growers, the tech providers, the marketing co-op – to develop precision technology that is compelling for growers 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.”

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.

Jim Wilson, managing director of Brechin-based 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.”

Claire Dyce of Grampian Growers, based near Montrose, added, “This has been an excellent outcome of the project, saving second guessing and it gives much better accuracy for growers to base decisions on. Obviously, as a cooperative, our ethos is to work together and we’ve been very impressed at both the running and the outcomes of the project, and getting as much as we can from the project for the growers.”

Summarising the initiative, project manager of SAC Consulting Iain Riddell commented, “From the start of this project it was clear that all the partners were on the same page, with clear goals – to get this technology out to the growers who will benefit most from it. This enthusiasm has carried through the whole project and we are very pleased with the uptake of Tuberzone monitoring by more than a third of the growers for the 2020 season, for Gemson and other varieties.  Another positive outcome is Grampian Growers field staff now using GPS technology to identify the optimum locations for test digs.”