Large-scale growers in the horticultural industry need to supply large volumes of consistent high quality produce for consumers. To improve the optimisation of their production they use weather data, but have limited or no access to accurate long-term forecasts. The most variable components in the growth and health of crops is rainfall, which impacts the supply and availability of fresh produce on our supermarket shelves. Most of the UK’s fresh produce, such as field vegetables and salads, depend on irrigation systems during the summer months. Increases in demand for water and reduced rainfall in the southern counties calls for improved summer rainfall forecasts to sustain fresh produce production.
The UKSRI project will explore the vulnerabilities in the food system from mismatches between supply and demand, to reduce the likelihood of food waste or financial penalties. It provides access to reliable summer rainfall insights to inform decisions to mitigate potential crop losses and reduce food waste in the field that currently exceeds 20% of harvests. The service would reduce the need for foreign fresh produce supplies, improve land-use efficiency, maintain buyer-grower relationships and limit the UK’s contribution to climate change.
The primary focus of the service is to discuss service requirements with growers to better optimise their large-scale fresh produce production in the UK. This includes the major supplier of lettuces to European supermarkets and at least 2 field vegetable growers. UKSRI aims to deliver a service for the potato industry who incur high losses from the late blight during damp summers, mitigated by early preventative spraying and irrigation planning ahead of droughts / water shortages. The project will address the supply challenges and explore the risks in the demand (or contract) procurement process of fresh produce through discussions with experts at the UK’s leading supermarket.
Growers need more accurate seasonal climate forecast information, since the main risk (B2B relationships, food waste, logistical / foreign import dependencies) results from not meeting buyer (grocery) contracts for a pre-arranged crop yield / quality. Supply shortfalls or surpluses can be mitigated in advance with all-year-round access to more accurate and reliable long-term weather data that must include:
- Daily-type insights
- Confidence estimates
- Weekly update frequency
- Field-level weather
Long-term forecasts would ideally include the key forecast variables (rainfall, temperature, solar radiation).
Long-term summer rainfall forecast will be delivered to growers through an API access key with a weekly update frequency. The data will provide hyper-local daily weather (and reliability estimates) for high-value crop production to improve crop growth and health modelling. This will empower growers to make better-informed agricultural decisions on how to best adjust their propagation or sowing to optimise their fresh produce production, ensuring an all-year-round supply that matches grocery store contracts. The service will also prove useful for soil moisture / irrigation planning to select crop mixes suitable for the upcoming water availability, improve disease alert systems and advisory services (e.g. for high-value field vegetables) for preventative spraying and reduce food waste and greenhouse gas contributions from agriculture, and reduce the agricultural sector’s resilience to extreme seasonal weather.
Our summer rainfall patterns utilises multiple surface temperature measurements from sensors onboard several international EO satellites. These are then subject to 4D-Var data assimilation pre-acquisition, providing us with the best estimate of the state of the initial condition for empirical forecasting. Weather Logistics’ algorithm will automate the download and processing of this satellite derived data each March / April from the ECMWF ReAnalysis Version 5T (ERA-5T) that is accessible from the EC Copernicus / the Climate Data Store.
Weather Logistics’ empirical forecast will also make us of seasonal climate forecast model data from the European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the UK Meteorological Office and Météo-France. European weather centres use of about 20% of available satellite measurements for operational weather prediction that include data from the EUMETSAT and ESA satellite programmes.
Combination of empirical forecasting, using satellite observations, with numerical weather prediction (NWP) has been shown to improve the accuracy of seasonal climate prediction. This is because teleconnections between the Atlantic sea temperatures and UK rainfall are better represented statistically than in physical models.
Building on early technical feasibility into summer rainfall prediction, further external technical resources are being sourced to develop our summer rainfall forecasts. Long-term forecast capabilities will be presented at two agricultural events and a validation plan is in progress to deliver reliable forecasts to large-scale growers.
Market research into irrigation planning has been initiated through discussions with large-scale growers of field vegetables and salads and buyers at supermarkets: two at Tesco and a prior employee of M&S.
Active stakeholder engagement will generate a set of requirements for our commercial plan to deliver professional services by Q1 2020.