With the advent of satellite imaging, high-precision sensor-based technologies, and the emergence of field-specific crop management concepts — collectively known as precision agriculture — the complexity of the underlying systems, processes and logistics has greatly increased in agriculture.

The Smith Institute used its expertise in optimisation to help the large producer co-operative G’s Growers make the best use of increasing volumes of collected data and formulate better decisions to optimise production and minimise waste of Iceberg lettuce crops.

The challenge

The challenge posed to the Smith Institute was to create a tool that:

  • turns historical observations and current weather forecasts into predictions regarding crop readiness;
  • provides an optimal schedule for sowing, planting and harvesting; and
  • allows the user to explore multiple scenarios before and during the season and perform what if analysis.

The tool required needed to be user friendly and fast enough to allow for adjustments throughout the growing season.

The solution

In our work we used an advanced statistical growth (lettuce readiness) model. The model shows how the available choices of crops and weather forecast affect the probability of undersupplying and oversupplying. We then use the methodology of large scale linear programming to devise optimal plans for sowing, planting and harvesting.

Furthermore, the output contributes to building systematic methods that partner growers could use to predict the effect of weather conditions on availability of crop, from sowing to harvesting, in different scenarios before and during the season. This means they can adjust and re-evaluate planting schedules on the fly throughout the year.

Ultimately, it is expected that the tool developed by the Smith Institute will help to quantify the outcomes of different scenarios and hence optimise planting and supply programmes as well as minimise overproduction.

Seasonal uncertainty in multiple variables is one of the largest challenges faced by the agricultural industry when trying to increase yields and improve efficiency for economic, social and environmental value. Developing a tool with the Smith Institute, which harnesses multiple data sets related to crop availability, to produce optimal production plans will enable growers to take necessary decisions to optimise supply chains and reduce waste.

Jacob Kirwan
Precision Farming & CSR Manager at G’s Growers