Objectives of the service
GEO4A aims to provide forecast and advisory services to potato value chain actors in the Benelux through Earth observations and in-situ data. This provides innovative real-time insights on parcels, crop vitality and vegetation growth. Detailed analysis and expert interpretation will support clients in their decision-making; maximizing and optimizing their processes, productivity and sales, but also improve the quality of their product.
The HARVIC Feasibility Study allowed to assess the potential of a commercial product service package for the potato sector in the Benelux. The study focused on acquiring a better and deeper understanding of the requirements of potato seed and processing segments in the Benelux, and to assess the commercial and technical viability of forecast and advisory services on fields, crop quality and vegetation growth through Earth observations and innovative real-time insights and growth modelling.
The study started in October 2020 and was finalized in September 2021. The understanding of the potato growing process is key, therefore certain activities of the feasibility study were aligned with the potato growing season, which is from April until October.
Users and their needs
Over the years, the Netherlands and Belgium have become world’s top producers and internationally renowned in the potato industry. Despite the leading position of the Netherlands and Belgium the potato sector is struggling with low prices, limited acreage in both countries, increasing global competition due to emerging markets such as China, and other restrictions affecting the production (processes) and yields. It was decided to specifically target the seed and processing segments as these two are dominant and have a leading position affecting the whole supply chain.
The success or failure of potato cultivation and following processing decisions and planning is determined by numerous criteria that must be considered. The highest priority is growing and harvesting the potato without damage and stress as this could significantly affect for example the quality, subsequent storage life and export, and the marketable yield. Therefore, there is a strong need to better manage the raw material supply chain as to further guarantee the quality processes.
The raw material chain consist of a growing process of ten phases (see figure below). In each phase there are incremental parameters and/or activities that are influencing the growth and potential of the crop and hence the decision of the companies regarding the purpose of the crops. Both the seed and processing industry are looking for ways to either minimize the risks, be aware of or control the process based on their business needs.
Service/ system concept
To fuse all available data in a meaningful way GEO4A’s HARVIC solution is centred around a crop growth model which is based on the robust WOFOST (World Food Studies) model developed at Wageningen University. This model is a mechanistic and dynamic model that allows to simulate crop growth on a daily resolution. The model uses all parameters that influence growth as input, and as output it delivers all key crop condition parameters. It models all underlying processes linked to growth such as photosynthesis, respiration, water uptake, etc. This allows forecasting, but also, crop characteristics that could not be directly measured before are now generated as model outputs, such as yield and vegetation growing curve. Meteorological data is needed to know the radiation levels and temperature which also influences the efficiency of this process.
The WOFOST model is a key component of the HARVIC growth model. The model is complemented with EO data, real-time individual field and agro data (figure below). This raw input data is than translated into HARVIC Indicator Services using analytics and statistical modelling.
The understanding of the development and status of the quality of the potato is key as certain circumstances during the growing season affect the properties. In this feasibility study the technical focus was particularly on assessing the viability of developing a blue-print vitality indicator (key quality indicator for seed segment) to a market-ready Vitality Quality Indicator. The collection and analysis of input parameters for this Indicator and establishing a positive correlation is a key activity.
A web-based platform enabling customers to track and analyse yield, projections and other quality indicators in the fields through time and space is being developed.
Space Added Value
Whereas agricultural products used to be just mechanical or electrical, today they are becoming more and more data-driven. Agricultural manufactures and processors are challenged to offer more and more complex services around their ‘normal’ machinery activities to compete in this ever developing environment and increasing customer demands.
Earth Observation is more important than ever—we’re having a dramatic impact on the planet, and the current COVID crisis further highlights how supply chains are increasingly globalizing and becoming more complex. Satellite and big data are very powerful means to provide additional risk information to this picture, complementing or in some cases replacing traditional risk indicators, with new, global coverage, informing on severity and extent of impacts and shocks. Facing COVID-19 further means that we are looking for new information to help with remote management and monitoring of projects, and to formulate and plan social protection and economic recovery measures for the new normality that will follow. Again, in this respect, EO can provide solutions.
The Feasibility study has been completed in October 2021.
In the Proof of Concept, three champion customers used HARVIC Essential and applied the information provided in three real business cases. The proof-of-concept prototype of the Service including viable quality indicators was developed during the ESA-feasibility study and is currently at the minimal marketable service phase (SRL 4-6) and Technical Readiness level. This means that the service is ready-to-use and is providing three champion customers with key potato quality indicators (vitality, maturity and net yield).
The feasibility study allowed GEO4A to increase its technological and statistical model sustained in major space assets and gain initial market traction. However, some aspects of a strong space-backed Quality and Quantity Indicators still remains to be developed to market-ready level for a wide range of customers, especially related to crop Quality Indicators.
In the coming three years GEO4A will expand the existing service package (gross yield monitoring and forecasting, with indicators related to quality).