Thanks to the revolutionary web application known as WatchITgrow, potato farmers are now able to forecast their yield on a per field basis. The application makes use of a variety of data, including satellite data, soil data and weather information. WatchITgrow is the continuation of iPot, the three-year research project involving VITO and a variety of partners. What is the purpose of WatchITgrow? To increase the quantity and quality of potatoes produced in Belgium.

Belgium’s biggest exporter

Jürgen Decloedt, a business developer at VITO: “Belgium is the world’s largest exporter of frozen potato products. Optimising the yield obtained by potato farmers is therefore crucial. That is why VITO got together with Belgapom (the professional association of the potato industry in Belgium), CRA-W (the Walloon Agricultural Research Center), ULg (the University of Liège) and Belspo (the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office) to develop the geo-information platform iPot. iPot stands for Intelligent Potato Monitoring.”

Precision agriculture

The iPot pilot project, which took place over a three-year time-scale, was the first to apply precision-agricultural technologies to potato cultivation. WatchITgrow is the commercial continuation of iPot. Jürgen Decloedt: “This is an application that enables anyone involved in the potato sector to monitor any field of potatoes, to share information about the fields concerned and to obtain a field-by-field forecast of the final yield towards the end of the season. That is what makes it a particularly attractive tool for growers, sellers, agricultural consultants and industry.”

Initial results

WatchITgrow utilises a range of data sources from soil data, weather information and satellite images to data entered by growers themselves. “This way, growers are able to record the times that spraying was carried out and on which crops. They also have the ability to enter any crop-specific data. The application has been especially well received within the sector. Over 600 users have registered to use WatchITgrow, which equates to 1900 plots and over 9400 hectares of potatoes”, says Jürgen Decloedt, a researcher.

Interesting insights

The data collected has already generated a number of interesting insights. Jürgen Decloedt: “The highest yields in 2017 were achieved in the loam and Condroz areas of Belgium (predominantly characterised by loam soils), whilst the lowest yields were recorded on the polders (clay soil) and in the part of Flanders with sandy soil. This initial yield pattern appears to be determined primarily by the weather. The soil type appears to be only of secondary importance. If, for example, we take a look at the varieties Bintje and Fontane, we can see that both varieties display great variability in terms of yield on clay soils and that this occurs to a lesser degree on sandy soils.”

New opportunities

Jürgen Decloedt: “The more data we can collect within WatchITgrow, the more significant the output will be. The types of information include details about planting and harvesting, fertilisation, irrigation and crop protection. If we are able to link that data to the data already available, we will be able to provide recommendations that are even more closely tailored towards growers. This, in turn, will result in a number of expansions to the application. One example of this takes the form of the shadow charts that enable growers to vary their planting, according to the amount of light that will fall upon the crop. By planting fewer seed potatoes in shaded areas, each plant will receive relatively more light, water and feedstuffs than it would if planted in the conventional density. As a result, the yield will be higher.”

Expansion of WatchITgrow

WatchITgrow is growing, the application is available for arable crops (corn, sugar beet and maize), as well as for open-air vegetables. Jürgen Decloedt: “In the case all of those crops, WatchITgrow will issue a score for the heterogeneous nature of a crop in a field, will monitor the growth curve and will keep track of any deviations from the meteorological data.”


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VITO has the capability to supervise and support SMEs in achieving sustainable innovation. This can take a variety of forms such as the re-use of water, the valorisation of waste streams, the recovery or storage of energy, or achieving more sustainable production. Whatever the area involved, VITO is able to provide assistance both in relation to technical/scientific, as well as financial/economic issues.

VITO works in close collaboration with the innovation support organisation known as “Innovatiesteunpunt”, including in connection with projects concerning by-product streams (a co-creation process) and energy (VIS Save Project – a Smart approach towards electricity). Thanks to the Prodem support from the Flemish government, SMEs in Flanders are able to enjoy a financial payment of 66% towards the research costs incurred by VITO. This only applies to agricultural business in partnership form. VITO will set out to locate suitable co-financing for projects with a broader scope as well.

For further information and without any obligation, please contact Karen Vanderstraeten or Johan Vangrunderbeek: - +32 (0)14 33 55 49 - +32 (0)14 33 57 32


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