Checking every inch of your potato fields isn’t an easy task, but precision agriculture company Hummingbird Technologies is trying to make it easier.
If you stand at the edge of a potato field, you’ll only see a small sampling of plants. If you start walking across it, you’ll be slowed by the potato hills. Overall, it’s not the easiest process. Drones and satellites however can see the whole field, which is what Hummingbird Technologies is using to help potato growers monitor their fields.
“It’s fair to say it’s early days, but not many other businesses are offering this type of tool that we’re aware of,” Jeff Goulding, Hummingbird’s United Kingdom business development manager, says in a Google Hangouts interview. “I think the market is fairly open… precision farming in potatoes is a new area.”
The UK—based precision agriculture company launched in Canada in January and offers a full slate of products for various crops including potatoes. Hummingbird collects information about fields from drones and satellites, the information is then presented through their web and ap-based platforms to growers who can integrate the information with other technology on their machinery.
Precision agriculture products have been gaining in popularity over the last decade with many start-ups launching and larger companies developing their own products. The products are designed to save producers time and money by monitoring their crops remotely, but also give industry a better understanding of how crops are doing and assist agronomists in their work.
“We’re not looking to replace agronomists. In many ways’ agronomists are irreplaceable, but we’re looking to support their role and make them more efficient,” Goulding says.
The potato precision agriculture world is lacking compared to its commodity crop peers like wheat who have numerous options — which gives Hummingbird an edge. The ag tech company may be new to Canada, but UK farmers have been using its products for a few years now.
One of the products they offer is potato plant counting. When the plate is around of five- or six-inches tall Hummingbird will fly a drone over the field and count every single emerged plant. This can help growers to see how effective a fungicide treatment has been or if they are having any planter problems.
“Farmers will typically know how many tubers per acre they’ve planted almost to the exact number, but they will not know how many tubers have emerged. And if there’s a huge difference then there is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Goulding explains.
They can also measure canopy development by monitoring the rate of emergence and the time it takes for the canopy to develop. If done regularly it can then be fed into a potato yield monitor.
Hummingbird can also help with desiccation — they can look at how much green material is left in the canopy to help farmers develop a spot spraying or variable rate application plan.
“This is all about managing the canopy. Trying to get an even canopy and making sure you’re not over fertilizing the crop — which means it’s going to stay green for too long and then you’re having to spend a lot of money trying to kill it,” says Goulding.
Another less used Hummingbird product for potato growers is weed detection, Goulding says. Once the crop has emerged, they can take an image of the crop and mask out the crop, leaving only the weeds and then create a variable rate herbicide plan to spray for.
Growers in the UK using Hummingbird’s potato products have found they’re able to be more targeted with their crop inputs, saving themselves time and money.
“Having remote data to support them in their field scouting and making sure they’re not missing any problems — there’s significant value in that,” Goulding says, adding growers have found they’re able to keep easier track of diseases in their crops.
Not Just for Growers
Hummingbird doesn’t just provide information to growers — they also work with processors who use them for regional yield prediction.
“In other words, how are my growers’ crops… am I going to have enough raw material coming into my factory? That’s all they want to know really at the end of the day,” Goulding says.
Hummingbird has yet to sign any contracts with processors for yield monitoring in Canada, but they are working on it. Globally they work with PepsiCo in Brazil and Australia, and Lamb Weston in the UK.