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Could new AI forecasts and ‘weather-tech’ reduce risks for farmers?

PUBLISHED: 07:52 17 April 2020 | UPDATED: 08:28 17 April 2020

'De-risking agriculture through weather-tech' will be discussed at a Free Agri-TechE webinar on April 29. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

'De-risking agriculture through weather-tech' will be discussed at a Free Agri-TechE webinar on April 29. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Advanced new ‘weather-tech’ and forecasting models can help East Anglian farmers manage one of the biggest traditional risks to their business, said industry experts.

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-TechE (formerly Agri-Tech East). Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-TechE (formerly Agri-Tech East). Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The ability of AI (artificial intelligence) and data modelling to mitigate the impact of weather will be discussed at a free online webinar hosted by Agri-TechE on April 29.

The discussion will include industry innovators working on solutions including bespoke forecasting to optimise crop scheduling, new ways to predict extreme events, and an insurance policy to protect against price volatility driven by the weather and its effects on yield.

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-TechE (formerly Agri-Tech East), said: “The farming community is used to managing risk but extreme weather events appear to happening with greater frequency. We are asking a number of agri-tech entrepreneurs to explain how new AI-based tools can help mitigate the impact of weather and other ‘acts of God’.

“The falling cost of computing power and the convergence of technologies such as imaging, remote sensing and monitoring, AI and data modelling are enabling a big picture view that until now has been too complex to capture and comprehend. Weather is a great example of where a systems approach to decision making would offer immediate benefits – I am looking forward to hearing the discussion.”

Chris Nankervis of Weather Logistics at the 2019 REAP agri-tech conference. Picture: Agri-TechEChris Nankervis of Weather Logistics at the 2019 REAP agri-tech conference. Picture: Agri-TechE

Webinar speakers include Chris Nankervis, chief executive of Weather Logistics, which has developed tools to reliably inform growers about the likelihood of a deluge.

He said the firm can detect disruptions in the Atlantic jet stream throughout the year and combine this with other data to create bespoke weather forecasts which can help farmers improve decision-making such as delaying or bringing forward planting or other farming operations to avoid adverse seasonal conditions.

Mr Nankervis estimates that optimising crop scheduling for those in the horticultural industry could increase profit margins by up to 20pc and ensure that delivery programmes are met with food retailers.

READ MORE: Lessons learned from farm experiment which solved pest problem – but ruined crop

Mark Hodgson is chief business officer for Cervest, which is developing the ability to predict the specific impact of extreme events anywhere on the planet by analysing climate and historical data.

He said: “Customers need to understand whether the situation they see now is a trend: it’s raining a lot now but is that normal for this time of the year or is it an anomaly? Is there a new weather trend that is going to last a generation? Are we in another cycle lasting 2-5 years? That’s important to know as it has bearings on longer term planning and investment.”

Joe Brooker, senior analyst at Stable Group said while weather predictions are useful, the risks farmers have to deal with are interconnected – and price and yield are the largest. “Price and yield risk are linked. Weather impacts production, which can impact yield; yield can impact price but this depends on scale, timing and other factors. These factors can also occur independently. Weather can be volatile, but not as volatile as price.”

Stable Group has developed an insurance model that uses independent commodity indexes to protect against price volatility. Farmers are able to fix the price and the insurance will pay out if the price drops. The platform runs 62 trillion simulations per week to forecast prices and spot future pricing signals, balancing its risk portfolio across crop, geography, time and place.

• The free webinar on April 29, named “Keeping a Sunny Outlook – De-risking Agriculture Through Weather-Tech”, was initially due to take place as a conference at Hethel Innovation near Norwich, but has been moved online as a result of the coronavirus restrictions. For more information see the Agri-TechE website.


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