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Machine learning to categorise lettuce crops in fields

A new machine learning platform uses deep learning to categorise lettuce crops in fields.

Researchers at the British Earlham Institute have developed a machine learning platform, AirSurf-Lettuce, which works with computer vision and ultra-scale images taken from the air to help categorise lettuce crops in fields.

Harvest with precision

The advanced software includes measuring quantity, size and pinpointing location to help farmers harvest with precision and getting the crop to market in the most efficient possible way. Importantly, this technology can be applied to other crops, widening the scope for positive impact across the food chain, reports Science Daily.

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Deep learning

The AirSurf technology – developed by members of the so-called Zhou Group at the Earlham Institute (EI), – uses ‘deep learning’ (a deep structured machine learning technique) combined with sophisticated, ultra-wide-scale imaging analysis to measure iceberg lettuce in a high-throughput mode. This is able to identify the precise quantity and location of lettuce plants, with the additional advantage of recognising crop quality, i.e. small, medium or large lettuce heads.

Combining this system with GPS allows farmers to precisely track size distribution of lettuce in fields, which can only help in increasing the precision and effectiveness of farming practice, including harvest time.

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The advanced software includes measuring quantity, size and pinpointing location to help farmers harvest with precision. - Photo: Peter Roek
The advanced software includes measuring quantity, size and pinpointing location to help farmers harvest with precision. - Photo: Peter Roek

Alan Bauer at EI, said: ” This cross-disciplinary collaboration integrates computer vision and machine learning with the lettuce growing business to demonstrate how we can improve crop yields using machine learning.”

‘Precision is essential’

Industry partner at G’s Growers, Innovation Manager Jacob Kirwan, added: “Farming at a large scale means that precision is essential when ensuring that we are producing crops in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. Using technology like AirSurf means that growers are able to understand the variability in their fields and crops at a much higher level of detail that was previously possible.”

“The decisions that can then be taken from this information, such as varying applications of inputs and irrigation; changing harvest strategies and planning the optimum time to sell crop, will all contribute towards increasing on farm yields and improving farm productivity.”

30% yield lost

Lettuce is big business. In East Anglia (United Kingdom) alone 122,000 tonnes are produced each year. Up to 30% of yield can be lost due to inefficiencies in the growing process as well as harvest strategies, which, if made up, could provide a significant economic boost.

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