Posted on October 13, 2017 by staff

Grass is greener for farmers thanks to university link-up


Farmers are using images taken from outer space to fertilise their fields more effectively.

Agri-tech start-up Precision Decisions is using many types of technology to help boost crops in Britain’s rural areas.

The business is based in York but works closely with Edge Hill University’s cutting-edge £13 million Tech Hub in Ormskirk, Lancashire.

“We download freely available satellite information, run various algorithms across that data and try to detect variability across a field,” chief technology officer Rich Kavanagh told BusinessCloud.

“A farmer may think his field is quite consistent but we are able to detect levels of variance from outer space and aid the farmer in treating that field to regain the variability that he should have.”

Louis Gilmartin completed a Masters degree at Edge Hill and now works full-time as a software developer at the firm.

“The whole field may be green, but [in satellite imagery] there might be slightly different shades of colour, which shows a difference in the crop growth,” he said.

“We can then tell that there’s something not quite right about that part of the field.”

Machinery such as tractors can be equipped with automated steering technology accurate to within two centimetres, according to Kavanagh.

“The tractor can turn around and come back in the opposite direction without wasting fertiliser,” he said. “He’ll never miss a strip – or take any hedges out!”

As part of a PhD at Edge Hill, Pradeep Hewage is producing forecasts which can predict the weather – wind speed and direction, plus rainfall – in specific parts of farms which can help avoid fertiliser wastage and damage to adjacent fields not intended for the chemical in question.

Such was its accuracy, the weather model, developed in tandem with American universities, was used by the US Air Force to make operational decisions.

The university works with organisations of all sizes – local, national and international – in sectors as diverse as wet stock management, food production, retail intelligence, security and charity.

This allows students to build up their employability skills and for academic staff to apply their research to real-world problems.