A Dark Horse on the crop sensing scene?

An Agri-EPI-supported trial of a new crop monitoring service has delivered promising results for Niall Jeffrey of Bielgrange Farm in East Lothian, Scotland.

Bielgrange comprises 350Ha of lowland arable land and 240Ha of hill with a beef herd running between both. As part of Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm programme, Niall is helping develop and evaluate Dark Technologies’ service, which uses satellite and drones to monitor crops, diagnose growth problems and predict yield.

Dark Horse’s prediction of yield from Mr Jeffrey’s field of second winter wheat was accurate to within less than 0.5% – and they did it without setting foot on his 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 to Dark Horse. 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.

“Dark Horse’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 prediction could help me 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.”

Dark Horse Technologies promotes its service as being different from other forms of crop analysis because it goes beyond pure spectral analysis and incorporates specific spatial and temporal analysis of the crops.

Niall Jeffrey, Bielgrange - Copyright QMScotland

Niall Jeffrey, Bielgrange – Copyright QMScotland

Jared Bainbridge, founder and chief executive of Dark Horse Technologies said: “What we were able to achieve with Niall is a great example of our service. 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.”  
Mr Jeffrey and Dark Horse and 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.

Gavin Dick, Agri-EPI’s head of farms said: “This kind of trial is what our satellite farm network is all about: bringing together farmers with the developers of next generation technologies and techniques to develop and evaluate new ways of supporting producers’ efficiency and productivity.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.