Precision farming has been in the spotlight at three AHDB Monitor Farm meetings in the South West.
All three farms – those at Truro, Malmesbury and Blandford – wanted to look at what the real pay-back of precision farming is, how they can measure it and ultimately, whether it is worth it.
Farmers heard how accurate driving can be one of the ‘quickest wins’ in precision farming, reducing overlaps, saving time, fuel and product, and needing nothing but a tape measure to start the decision making process.
A main area of discussion at all three Monitor Farm meetings was variable rate applications of seed and fertiliser. Variable rate application is the application of seeds, fertilisers or agrochemicals at different rates as required by the conditions in different parts of a field.
Roger Wilson, Malmesbury Monitor Farm host said: “The first thing we need to consider on this is how variable the farm soil types and nutrient status levels are in the first place. Next year we will start applying phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) at variable rates. The real question for us is whether it brings any benefit to our farm. It’s going to take time but we will be monitoring soil maps to review the impact on index levels.”
A soil map is a plan of soil characteristics such as texture or fertility, created from a set of samples taken across an area at different depths.
Philip Dolbear, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Knowledge Exchange Manager, added: “Variable rate technology requires initial investment in sampling. Much of precision technology will generate a lot of data, but it’s really important to think about how the data will be used. If there aren’t appropriate systems to use the information, then the full benefits won’t be realised.
“Variable P and K application to even up nutrients within a field does work but it takes a long time to achieve. However, it may eventually reduce the overall P and K fertiliser requirements on a farm.”
Precision farming need not be complicated or expensive at the outset. Philip said:
“Precision farming has been around for a long time – for as long as farmers have measured what they do. When considering assisted steering, the cheapest and simplest investment is a tape measure and this is the best place to start.”
By measuring drill width and tram lines, farmers can see how accurately they are driving.
Philip added: “If farmers are already driving accurately then there’s not so much benefit in investing in assisted steering technology. However, it could allow farmers to concentrate more on setting up and operating implements to maximum efficiency, which may in itself pay dividends.”
AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds has a Plain English glossary that defines most precision farming terms in an accessible A-Z format, as well as a guide to assessing in-field soil variability. See the page on Precision Farming for more information.
AHDB Monitor Farms bring together groups of farmers who want to improve their businesses by sharing performance information and best practice around a nationwide network of more than 30 host farms. Monitor Farms are part of AHDB’s wider Farm Excellence Platform, which works with the industry to improve performance through knowledge exchange and benchmarking.
For more information about the Monitor Farm programme, visit cereals.ahdb.org.uk/monitorfarms or follow on twitter using #monitorfarm.
Image: Roger Wilson and machinery