Transplanting lettuce at G’s Growers plantation field, near Ely, UK. Credit: G’s Growers.

Researchers at the Earlham Institute have been working in cooperation with G’s Growers, an independent producer comprising of 17 farmer members throughout the UK. Their collaborative efforts have produced a new machine learning platform called AirSurf-Lettuce. The platform uses computer vision and ultra-scale images to help categorise lettuces.

After collecting images using light fixed-wing aircraft, this new software developed by the Zhou Group is capable of pinpointing the location of lettuces growing in a field and measure their quantity and size. There is a lot of planning involved with harvesting including logistics, trading and marketing and this information can allow farmers to plan harvests and get the lettuce to market efficiently.

Lettuce farming provides over a hundred thousand tonnes of crop in the UK each year and up to 30% of that yield can be lost to inefficient growing and harvesting. This software will help to prevent the magnitude of that loss. AirSurf also helps to tackle the problem of unpredictable weather. By monitoring the lettuce regularly, you can keep track of its development regardless despite changes in temperatures, rainfall and stormy conditions.

The technology uses ‘deep learning’ and combines it with ultra-wide imaging to measure in a high-throughput mode. It gives a high level of precision and can even measure the quality of a lettuce in terms of its growth. The system can be combined easily with GPS to allow precise tracking. One of the most exciting parts of this technology is that it will be easy to use on other crops too.


The work, titled Combining computer vision and deep learning to enable ultra-scale aerial phenotyping and precision agriculture: A case study of lettuce production was published in Horticultural Research – Nature.