Sensors visualise potato growth

Published on
December 21, 2021

Potato cultivation could make much more use of data. That is why a consortium of Japanese and Dutch companies and institutes has started research into the development of data-driven crops. The Business Unit Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower Bulbs of Wageningen University & Research manages the project and a multidisciplinary team carries out the research. For example, researchers from WUR and OnePlanet have developed a method to measure tuber development underground using simple sensors.

Japan is a country with a lot of high-tech. At the same time, there are many small farmers often without successors. The use of modern techniques could attract a new generation of young farmers and offer a solution: data about the crop could help the farmer with disease detection, for example. To develop such techniques, knowledge about cultivation is needed. And  precisely that knowledge is available at Dutch companies and knowledge institutions.

That is why a Dutch-Japanese consortium has started the project TTADDA: Transition To A Data-Driven Agriculture. The project is a public-private partnership and is financed by both Dutch and Japanese governments, namely the Top Sector Horticulture & Propagation Materials and the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture. In TTADDA, WUR and Japan's NARO (National Agriculture and Food Research Organization) work closely together.

One of the components of TTADDA is harvest forecasting. WUR researchers have developed a method to use electrical impedance tomography to measure how many potatoes grow in the soil and how big they are. For this purpose, sensors are mounted on two shelves that are sensitive to electrical radiation. This makes it possible to make a 3D map of the subsoil, on which potatoes are visible.

The method was tested at scale level in buckets in the greenhouse last year. The sensors are  further developed with the Dutch institute OnePlanet (a collaboration between WUR, IMEC and RadboudUMC). The practical test will take place in Japan next year: the boards with sensors will be placed behind a tractor and, while driving,  measure how the tubers develop during the growing season.

More information about TTADDA can be found at​