Oli and Paul standing in a plum orchard in full blossom

November 2023 saw the start of a bold project, developing precision farming tools for top fruit growers that will cut on-farm fruit wastage and slash the use of chemical inputs. Precision Orchard Management for the Environment, or POME, is an exciting project backed by the UK government to tackle some of the most pressing issues in top fruit farming.

POME is a four-year, £4.5 million ($5.7m / €5.3m) project supported by Innovate UK and Defra and partly funded by the project’s commercial partners. Outfield is proud to be a partner in POME, integrating our orchard management platform with a range of other sensing and application technologies.

The POME project is focusing on three key challenges:

  • Improving orchard surveying – bringing together different scanning and surveying techniques to build a detailed picture of an orchard’s crop. POME will combine hyperspectral cameras for disease detection, lidar scanning for tree architecture, and drone surveys for fast on-demand crop information.
  • Better yield estimates for growers – improving yield prediction techniques by combining a range of orchard data sources. The project will look at weather data, tree counts, soil maps and orchard scans to build models for predicting yields that growers can use with confidence.
  • Precision spraying at a sub-tree level – demonstrating practical systems for growers to precisely control chemical inputs. POME will use precision variable rate spraying to target chemical agents onto individual trees, or even onto different parts of a tree, for example growth regulators, blossom thinners or fungicide agents.

By looking at these three areas of orchard management together, POME will link different sensing, decision making and intervention systems. To work for growers, precision farming platforms have to be able to share data with each other, which is a big theme of another exciting project that Outfield is part of called VISTA. You can read more about that project here.

Most of Outfield’s work on POME will focus on the challenge of better yield estimation for growers. The Outfield platform gives growers a snapshot of orchard or vineyard performance with fruit count maps, but by incorporating factors like disease mapping, climate data, soil information and crop modelling we can produce even more detailed yield estimates. Outfield will aggregate data from other parts of the project to help growers monitor and improve their yields.

The precision spraying work in POME builds on a previous Innovate UK funded project called the Precision Orchard Dosing System, or PODS, which Outfield was also a partner in. PODS demonstrated that we can carry out variable rate spraying at a super high resolution on commercial apple crops. Now POME will take that work even further, by giving growers tools to increase yields and minimise wasted fruit, all while reducing chemical inputs.

The PODS sprayer demonstrating precision variable rate spraying during a test in 2021

It’s particularly exciting that the CRD, the UK’s pesticide regulator, is one of the POME consortium members, showing that there is real interest in the potential for precision spraying at the government level. The loss of plant protection products and an increased focus on integrated pest management (IPM) from both farmers and retailers mean there is a real urgency to the work POME is doing.

The POME project will be delivered by a consortium from across the UK fruit industry including:

  • Outfield and two other cutting-edge agri-tech startups
  • Three leading fruit growers
  • Horticultural agronomy specialists
  • A fruit marketing organisation
  • The UK’s pesticide regulator, the CRD
  • Software and mechanical engineering companies
  • Three research institutes

The project started with a kick off meeting in November of all the consortium members at NIAB in Cambridge. The first baseline drone surveys will be carried out on the POME trial farms in February, and the first disease detection trials will take place later in the 2024 growing season.

If you would like to know more about POME and about better yield estimation and precision spraying for your farm then we would love to hear from you. Get in touch at hello@outfield.xyz or follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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