A new crop monitoring service which diagnoses growth problems and predicts yield has delivered promising results for an East Lothian farm.
Niall Jeffrey is helping develop Dark Horse Technologies' service on Bielgrange Farm, which comprises 350ha of arable land and 240ha of hill with a beef herd running between both.
Dark Horse’s prediction of yield for Bielgrange's field of second winter wheat was accurate to within less than 0.5% - and they did it without setting foot on the farm.
Mr Jeffrey said: “We chose a difficult field for the trial where the crop was poorly established. The open canopy enabled weeds to establish which we couldn’t treat without damaging the crop.
"Dark Horse remotely programmed a drone mission. All I had to do was go to the field and press start then, when it finished the mission, upload the memory card online.
"We initially predicted a yield of around 8 tonnes and revised this throughout the growing season as Dark Horse showed us how things were progressing."
The agri-tech firm's ultimate prediction – made three weeks before harvest – was 6.4 T/ha, and the actual result was 6.43 T/ha.
Going forward, the company says its predictions could help farmers with the management of harvest storage and forward selling.
"We were impressed with the accuracy of the results. I'm intrigued to see what else it can do," Mr Jeffrey said.
Dark Horse promotes its service as being different from other forms of crop analysis, as it goes beyond pure spectral analysis and incorporates specific spatial and temporal analysis of the crops.
Founder Jared Bainbridge said: “Feature analysis allows us to monitor the geometric growth trajectory of each plant in the field over time.
“We can gauge each individual plant's performance to understand the ideal size and shape of a crop at any point in its life-cycle and can benchmark each plant's performance.
"Our service is designed so that it can be delivered with factory issued drones you can buy off-the-shelf. We’re not a drone company but an advanced crop imaging company.
"We are capable of combining multiple sources of data and imagery such as satellite, drone, mobile, sensor and ground-truth data; into a proprietary model capable of predicting yield and mapping crop-loss events with a high degree of accuracy.
"We are also able to integrate with existing on-farm machines to ensure sprayers target the areas of the field which need the most help, saving time and money.”
Dark Horse and Bielgrange Farm are now preparing for more trials, including a field scale seed treatment trial and the measurement of grass output from a paddock grazing system for cattle next summer.