A new digital forecasting tool to maximise planning and profitability for soft fruit growers will soon launch to the market after £2.8m capital was raised from private investors.
FruitCast has been created in response to grower demand to more precisely forecast fruit growth development to help plan labour and market supply while protecting margins.
The tool, which has been trialled on farms over the last two years, uses a moving camera to take thousands of photographs to measure individual fruit numbers, weight and the maturity of millions of berries per day.
Traditionally, yield forecasting is based on skilled workers counting plants and multiplying up to predict quantity and harvest dates.
But the firm's CEO, Richard Williamson said the tool could be a gamechanger for an industry plagued by challenges persistently squeezing margins.
He said: “The AI capability is driven by one of the largest databases in the world, which gives it a firm foundation for accurate forecasting ahead of other competitors.
"This combined with the depth of understanding of practical agriculture and proven capability has made FruitCast attractive to agri-tech investors in what is a competitive and noisy marketplace.”
Dr Raymond Martin, FruitCast's chief technical officer, said yield forecasting was the holy grail for soft fruit growers.
“It’s a time sensitive crop, and too much fruit in any week means waste and loss, and too little, you lose business," he explained.
"We want all growers to be able to precisely forecast their season to give them the leverage to take back the power in managing their costs and customer contracts.”
The tech is being trialled at field-scale with two of the UK’s leading soft fruit growers and processors, W B Chambers and Place UK.
It is the success of these trials and response from growers that has stimulated the substantial investment, raised from private investors, Ceres Agritech and Innovate UK.
Louise Sutherland, from Ceres Agritech, said said FruitCast had huge potential to make transformational change in the industry.
"Predicting the timing and yield of strawberries is critical but extremely difficult to do accurately resulting in significant lost sales.
"Precise forecasting will help to increase growers’ annual margins. We are delighted to see that a Ceres Agritech-backed technology is going to market.”
FruitCast's aims to become commercially available for early-access in the 2024 growing season.