On-farm experience of Crop4sight

Richard Maddocks of Wilfred Maddocks Ltd in Shropshire has been using the Crop4Sight system over several seasons. To find out about his experience using the technology, read on …

How to get started with Crop4Sight

We began working with Crop4Sight during its development stage and have been slowly rolling out its use and functionality over the last four years.

From the time the seed arrives on-farm in the spring, right through to the harvest in the autumn, we’re utilising its capabilities. We’re even able to see the benefits for our customers because we can provide crop information at any stage with ease.

Crop4Sight in-season analytics

Once crops are in the ground, I’ll go out crop walking weekly with our agronomist Fiona, which is where Crop4Sight’s in-season insights kick in. We observe and measure the crop using the mobile app, allowing us to review crop establishment against the planned seed rates & ware tuber populations. Which in turn helps us with early decision making, facilitating tweaks to nutrition programmes and target harvest date based on yield potential.

Avoiding potato yield loss

In 2021, some of our crops were hit by late frosts and stem numbers were lower than anticipated.

Using the technology, we could see tuber numbers were forecast to be low and which would result in a much bolder sample of packing variety Jelly than the packer would like.

We supply our potatoes between September and November, and we could see in June that there might be a problem. At this point, we were able to have a conversation with Greenvale and pre-warn them. Without Crop4Sight we wouldn’t have been able to evidence this problem with such a degree of confidence.

Addressing the issue early meant Greenvale could talk to its customers and subsequently adjust maximum size to 90mm instead of the usual 85mm, helping maintain the marketable yield and ensure their customers were supplied.

Early predictions for potato yields

This year, we will be trialling the use of satellite imagery to compliment ground level imagery.

Canopy cover drives the level of light interception fuelling the crop’s biological yield. From inputs of emergence data & groundcover (recorded by satellite or on the mobile app) and early season yield digs, the system forecasts how the crop will develop. 

The monitoring system of actual versus predicted canopy development gives early warnings of potential issues in the field to adjust management or expectation of yield as the season progresses. 

This capability was tested by last year’s unprecedented hot spell, when the system picked up that some crops had stopped growing when temperatures spiked for five consecutive days above 35C.

Fortunately, two-thirds of our crops were irrigated, and the actual growth curve didn’t deviate much from the prediction and yields were good. For the remaining crops which didn’t receive irrigation, it was a different story, with the canopy going backwards and Crop4Sight predicting a 30% yield drop that was confirmed at second digs closer to harvest. 

Crop4Sight gave a picture of what we had across the entire area and reassured us that we were unlikely to end up delivering short of contracts.

As it was so extreme, I did question whether the data would be robust, but it was as accurate as it’s always been.

Late season

As the season reaches its busy period and thoughts turn to dry weather, harvest scheduling and maleic hydrazide application, this is where we get the most out of the system.

Although we would expect the earliest planted crops to reach optimum marketable size first, varietal factors and variability in field conditions mean this is not always the case.

The system tracks crop development, giving the farm a forecast of when we will hit the right size to schedule flailing and stop the crop. This is particularly important in our pre-pack crops, where we’re looking for 50% baker content, typically 65-85mm. 

At the other end of the scale, we have to eliminate tubers under 45mm, as the harvest goes straight into boxes and sell the crop off the field, so there is no opportunity to grade them out back at the yard.

We can programme desiccation and harvest at the back end to meet our customers’ needs and maximise our marketable yield. If a crop has been knocked and not going to reach its potential, we also see that and harvest it early, and, if a crop has thrown a few more tubers and needs time to bulk, we can let it run on.