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Precision Decisions

Precision Decisions

This Yorkshire-based farming services company entered into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. This saw a research associate work with them for three years to introduce new practices geared towards improving crop yields.

Maximising crop yields is critical for farmers, and Precision Decisions helps them do this by using sensors on tractors that monitor nitrogen levels and pinpoint where fertiliser is most needed. Instead of simply spreading it equally across the ground, the company’s technology enables variable application to improve yields and profit margins, and reduce potential environmental impacts.

But Precision Decisions needs to turn the huge amounts of real-time data it gathers into useful insights for farmers. So, to ensure it remains at the cutting-edge of data science, the company entered into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Newcastle University and Innovate UK, which saw a research associate work with them for three years to introduce new practices.

With guidance and support from senior academics at the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, the associate, Yonatan Shahar, began by linking to a specialist database designed to handle such large amounts of information. He then developed bespoke algorithms to cleanse the data of errors that might be caused when, for example, a GPS signal cuts out or an operator uses a tractor in an unexpected way.

Yonatan then turned his attention to making the information accessible and easy to use for farmers. He developed an app that provides information in tractor cabs and can control the application of fertiliser automatically. It also allows farmers to easily view field maps and even compare fertiliser data to yield records gathered from sensors on harvesters.

Rich Kavanagh, Chief Technology Officer at Precision Decisions, explains: “Our associate was able to combine his agricultural knowledge, because he came from an agricultural background and he had worked in agriculture, with his technical and IT knowledge. The combination of those two things worked extremely well.

“He was able to do an awful lot of cleansing, take out some known values, GPS errors and things like that, and actually provide us with a really usable and meaningful dataset, from which we could create layers of visualisation for the farmer to apply over their existing field maps. We wouldn’t be as advanced as we are with variable rate application without the associate’s input.”

Since the project Yonatan has been employed permanently by Precision Decisions. General Manager Stephen Leese explains: “We had the benefit of an employment interview that went on for three years. We had an opportunity to assess him and it lowered the risk of employing somebody new.”

The work also helped Yonatan complete his MPhil with a dissertation on precision agriculture systems that was supported by the KTP and the University gained valuable insight into genuine industry challenges, keeping class content up to date and informing research.

This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) programme. KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base. This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.