Potato forecast system wins prestigious award

A potato modelling system, which forecasts yield and tuber size, has won the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) and Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) Practice with Science Award.

Developed by the The National Institute of Agricultural Botany and Cambridge University Farms, the tool can supply valuable data to the entire potato supply chain, to aid both in-field and processing practices as well as reporting.

Sponsored by AB Agri, the award prize money totals £10,000 sterling which, according to the project’s leader David Firman, will be used to further enhance data automation and simulation modelling.

Commenting on NIAB’s win, John Giles, an Oxford Farming Conference director, said: “The judges were impressed by this technically pioneering project and by its established uptake by some of the major players in the potato chain.”

At an agronomic level, the system’s modelling allows growers to calculate seed rates and a crop’s irrigation needs; whilst for businesses closer to the retailer, the data can be used to determine total yields as well as the impact of delayed harvests on tuber size.

“The marketing data, in particular, is hugely valuable for communicating expected harvest quantities, tuber size and delivery dates through to end customers. The value of the service for the whole potato supply chain is really what secured this as the winning entry.”

The Practice with Science Award was set up in 2010 to recognise applied scientific work that has resulted in valuable benefits to the agricultural industry, particularly in relation to on-farm practices.

Mr Giles added: “This award addresses a fundamental need for agriculture because it bridges the big gap between the science-driven innovation farmers need on the ground, and the ‘leading edge science’ work being done in research institutions. NIAB CUF was selected because their work has added direct and measurable benefits to growers as well as supplying just-in-time data to the supply trade.”

The runner up in the 2014 Practice with Science Award was the eBolus, developed by design engineer Seonaid Nimmo of eCow Ltd; this project was also runner up in 2013. The eBolus is used to monitor rumen pH and temperature, and works wirelessly to alert herd managers to any fluctuations in the rumen environment, acidosis and issues like mycotoxin levels in maize silage.

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