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Space age agronomy on show at the World Potato Congress

28 February 2012

This year’s World Potato Congress, to be held in Edinburgh in May and organised by AHDB Potatoes, has attracted a remarkable line-up of international speakers. Grower Gateway examines the notable developments they will be highlighting. 

Space age agronomy
Satellite technology developed during the cold war is set to deliver state-of-the-art crop monitoring systems to help growers improve agronomy and drive up profits. 
Although the technology dates back several decades, its capabilities for remote sensing of crops are only now being realised thanks to relatively recent developments in information technology, says Stephanie Race, chief executive of San Francisco-based Earth Analytics Group.
“Satellite remote sensing can inform observations of crop canopy development at scale. When used with meteorology, soils data and crop models, growers can monitor in-season production and reduce water use to achieve more favourable yields at a lower cost,” she explains. “Growers can evaluate many more fields with remotely-sensed data than they could by walking them – we are saving time with technology.”
Information can be used to fine-tune management decisions during the season and to give an accurate prediction of yield in relation to planned harvest dates. This not only helps growers manage their inputs efficiently and plan harvest campaigns better, it also helps manufacturers improve crop supply forecasts, she adds.
Data can also be used retrospectively to evaluate crop performance, helping to pinpoint areas for improvement in future seasons.
Cambridge University Farm is working with Earth Analytics Group to develop the technology in the UK and further afield. Dr David Firman, head of the Potato Agronomy Group at CUF, says better canopy measurement is the key to improved crop monitoring.
“Crop cover drives crop production and water demand. Current methods of measuring it are primitive and time consuming and can only be used on small areas.
“Bringing satellite imagery together with locally gathered information and yield and irrigation modelling, which we already operate, will allow growers to make more efficient use of resources during the season and will also allow more efficient data capture which can be analysed to provide an element of forecasting and strategic decision-making.” 
That will help growers make more informed choices based on actual crop performance and expectations, he adds. “One of the problems is that people tend to be reactive and go from one season to the next without having all the data to hand to make rational decisions. This new technology will give them the information they need.”
* Visitors to WPC can hear more about this novel approach to crop monitoring including real-life examples of growers using it and where future advances might be made, notably through more efficient use of IT. 
For more information and to reserve your place, go to
Making a habit of potatoes
Children are tomorrow’s customers so getting them into the potato habit early is crucial to secure long-term demand for produce.
Growers can play a big part by supporting two AHDB Potatoes educational projects, says Caroline Evans, head of marketing and corporate affairs at AHDB Potatoes.
Grow Your Own Potatoes is aimed at primary schools and 14,600 will receive presentation boxes with everything they need to grow and harvest their own potatoes this year, she says.
“The project is one of our biggest campaign successes. Now in its eighth year, it has reached more than 1m pupils, and much of this success has been down to growers lending their support to the campaign.”
There are several ways farmers can get involved, she says. “Growers can encourage schools to register. We’re also asking them to tell customers, friends and relatives about the project to ensure the message gets through to as many schools as possible.”
Growers can also help directly by going in to schools to help plant, manage and harvest crops – a list of schools partaking in the project can be found at
“Hosting farm visits is another great idea – there are plenty of organisations that can help growers with this to ensure everything is in place before they accept children onto the farm.”
A second project, Cook Your Own Potatoes, is aimed at 11 to 13-year-olds and is designed to give them basic food preparation and cooking skills. Again, growers can push the message to family, friends and customers to ensure as many schools as possible take part, says Caroline.
* Growers attending WPC can hear first hand about the projects and what they can do to help, and Glenda Gourley from Potatoes New Zealand will also provide an insight into a similar programme that is targeting teens. 
Further information at and
The World Potato Congress takes place every three years, and the 2012 Edinburgh event on 27-30 May is world class, attracting speakers from the USA, GB, The Netherlands, China, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Canada. It will provide a unique opportunity for growers and the whole industry to share information and uncover vital new knowledge. 
Printable Version Grower Gateway - Issue 2, 2012
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