A report for every farmer
"We collect a lot of extra data about how the crop is grown, gather digital photographs and count the ears," says Daniel. "We'll take a crop sample just before harvest and a grain sample from the combine as well, and analyse those. This basically deconstructs the crop to learn about the yield, in terms of grain size, number of grains per ear, harvest index (the amount of grain versus the amount of straw) and the biomass and nitrogen uptake.
"With this data we produce a report for every farmer or every entry, and that data set allows us to understand what's driving the variation of the yields across the whole group.
"That's where Agrimetrics comes in, and with the sponsors committing for three years we have the potential to take a longer view."
The YEN has over 200 entries this year, and ADAS are looking to increase this alongside the international reach. In fact, last year's highest yield came from a field in Denmark.
"An international example is a company called Tradecorp that has just joined the YEN, and they'll be entering crops from Ireland, Belgium, Holland, and the UK. So it is wider than just the UK," says Daniel.
"The weather data for other countries is a bit tricky. Entrants tell us what the soil types are, but we need the weather data to be able to do the calculations. This will come from the Agrimetrics data and we are looking at using satellite imaging and estimates for growth stage."
"Then you really start getting into Big Data, and its applications and uses.
"My hope is that what we're doing here with the YEN and with Agrimetrics is a stepping stone – at the moment what we're doing with the YEN is deep and narrow, but I think there's an opportunity for something broader but a bit shallower."
New for 2017
During 2017, the YEN is providing a full nutritional analysis on grain samples, with NIAB providing grain shape and size reports. Nabim is also on board; the organisation for millers and bakers in the UK. It is also the first time that an oilseed rape competition has been held – Oilseed YEN.
Daniel continues: "The plan is to have an innovation award in the YEN as well to encourage those that are doing things differently.
"The data we generate only really allows us to put up hypotheses. It doesn't, ultimately, tell us what the right decisions are. However, it's perfectly possible to determine that just by doing something different to one tramline or a few tramlines in a field.
"So we are working with farmers on something called the Agronomics Project, which has developed that approach and the protocols and the datasets that we need to do that effectively.
"The future is to bring together groups of farmers and agree to test things in a joined up way, learning together."