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2020-06-01

Interview with Dr. Heike Bach, managing director of Vista GmbH and Robert van der Kooy, market analyst and sales manager Ypsilon BayWa Agri Supply & Trade BV

Ypsilon helps to predict how weather conditions will affect crop yield. Evaluations in recent years indicate that if climate change continues, yields in Europe will fall significantly. How will climate change affect European yields, and is Ypsilon able to correctly predict yields in this changing environment?

Dr. Heike Bach: YPSILON itself is basically a large-scale monitoring tool for the current season for the first time and does not make any recommendations for action. It uses a statistically representative number of samples (several hundred thousand points distributed across Europe) to predict yields for regions and countries, but it does not consider every single field. Of course you can do that, then you are in the realm of our TalkingFields Services. 

Robert van der Kooy: Due to climate change, yields will fluctuate more and therefore it will be more important than ever to be able to predict crop yields correctly. In 2018, Europe experienced an extreme drought. Ypsilon correctly predicted very early in the season that yields would be very disappointing. The effects of the record heat in 2019 were also correctly captured by the Ypsilon model. Because Ypsilon simulates all plant growth, we are able to make predictions even under the most adverse weather conditions.

Dr. Heike Bach: In principle, there has still been a trend towards higher yields over the last 10 years, especially in Eastern Europe, but the drought conditions in Europe in recent years with the corresponding yield losses are a phenomenon that can and will occur more frequently under climate change conditions. Fortunately, data- and information-driven agriculture offers many opportunities for mitigation, from the cultivation of more heat- and drought-resistant varieties to targeted irrigation. Here too, satellite data can be helpful, as it is possible to determine both the growth and the water requirements of the plants and then react with precise measures.

What makes Ypsilon different from other yield forecasting systems?

Robert van der Kooy: Unlike most yield forecasting systems that only use satellite information or weather data, we use a plant growth model in which we simulate plant growth completely with weather and satellite information. This gives us a high degree of accuracy, but our yield forecast is much earlier than most other forecasters. 

The culture of indoor farming in the Netherlands is very pronounced. Can the results of the Ypsilon yield forecast also influence cultivation strategies in indoor production?

Dr. Heike Bach: Indoor production is of course not directly visible from the satellite, and is also subject to much more controlled conditions than field farming. Indoor, natural uncertainties such as water availability and temperature can be controlled. YPSILON takes these factors and many more, such as radiation intensity and water retention capacity of the soil, into account in its growth model via meteorological measurement and forecast data as well as terrain models and soil maps in order to accurately predict yields. YPSILON focuses on the "big row crops" - wheat, rapeseed and corn - while indoor farming often focuses on special crops that can be grown in a smaller area. 

The findings of the yield forecast certainly have an influence on the social discussion about climate change. What role will Ypsilon's management play in the climate debate with politicians and associations?

Robert van der Kooy: Ypsilon is able to predict crop failures very early in the season and can therefore help politicians and associations to make the right decisions in good time.

Dr. Heike Bach: YPSILON offers high-resolution yield forecasts for the most important wheat, canola and corn growing areas in Europe. YPSILON thus covers all major trends in Europe in the current season, and the available retrospective (YPSILON yield forecasts will be available from 2017) also allows the trends of recent years in the individual regions to be quickly illustrated. This makes it a very suitable tool for targeted measures at European level, as it not only shows how yields are developing overall, but also which regions are particularly affected by weather conditions such as drought in the current season.