Online hub joins the dots to integrate vital information

Article taken from the Agronomist & Arable Farmer

Agrovista has been investing in technology and recruitment to make sure British growers and agronomists have the tools they need for the future.  This includes a new online grower hub called Axis, part of its Plantsystems brand.

“Plantsystems is a single brand that encompasses all our technology and precision business,” Nick Rainsley, head of marketing at Agrovista, told a briefing to launch the new system at the Thelveton estate in Norfolk recently.

Dr Tony John, Agrovista’s director of strategic development, explained what Agrovista has been doing and why.  “We have heavily invested in recruitment,” he said.

“Our average agronomist’s age has dropped 10 years in the last three.

“Part of my role is to make sure that we have the technology available to suit the needs of farming.  British farmers are best at growing wheat in terms of yield has stubbornly plateaued at 7.8 tonnes per hectare.”

“We are not actually using that new genetic material appropriately.  Agriculture is a bit like Formula 1.  Gains will be brought by small increments.”

Dr John looked at the reasons for the gap between the genetic potential of the latest varieties and what’s actually being achieved in commercial farming, dividing it into three.  For a start there was a gap between the potential yield on farms and the yield being achieved with the same varieties on experimental stations.  That he blamed on the absence from farms of the latest non-seed technologies and precision techniques.  Finally, the gap between what experimental stations are achieving and what could potentially be done with wheat was down to the limitations of current varieties.

“Addressing that first gap is about information,” he said.  “Axis can help in the short term in that particular area.”  The second gap could be tackled by delivering integrated precision agriculture and attention to detail.  The third gap needed continued R&D on varieties and communication of their benefits to UK farmers.  Yield is the final product.  Now we have multiple layers data available to us.”

Agriculture is getting less access to new chemistry and some old chemistry is being taken off the market.  “Ultimately we are going to need a whole different way of managing our crops,” Dr John said.  “Axis is future-proofing us.  It is infinitely expandable.  We are ready for any new technology that comes over.”

Variation pinpointed

Lewis McKerrow, Agrovista’s head of precision services, explained where Axis fits in with Agrovista’s services.  “We’ve always been involved in precision farming,” he said.  “We’ve also been involved in specialist weather services.  It was a good time to bring that under one banner.  We start with the basic soil analysis.  If we can actually pinpoint known areas of variation, we can target those areas.

Conductivity analysis gives more detail of soil types and that can be turned into a clear map.  “We can start to look at variable seed rates etc,” he explained.

He also stress how much more could be done with sensor technology.  “These sensors have a lot more applications we want to make the best use of.  Biomass scans very closely related to what the final yield of the crop is.  We can use that information effectively to give us a prediction of tonnes per hectare.

“You can see these maps to develop a growth regulator plan,” Mr McKerrow said.  Plantsystems offers weather stations and soil moisture stations as well as weather and spraying conditions forecasts.  “You can be very accurate with how you use water,” he said.

“We are now training all our field staff.  We are introducing them to technology at an early stage.  Data handling is part of their future.”  He explained that Axis is a new online grower hub from Agrovista, to be launched at Cereals.  The system has three key functions: agribusiness information, a field recording package and a precision mapping package.  “We have the Greenlight grower management package from Muddy Boots,” he said.

Mr McKerrow said there would be a number of subscription options.  The basic package, Axis info, gives access to useful information in one place.

“If they are looking at field pathology we can give them Axis Field Pro.”  That includes a crop recording package with an iPad app.  Then there is MapIT Pro, with mapping to keep farm maps and precision data together.

“It is quite a flexible package structure to suit their needs,” he said.  The basic system is free to register and offers online access to agronomists’ recommendation sheets.  It has basic mapping of field boundaries and cropping.  There is an Agrogate section which covers compliance, nitrate vulnerable zones, renewable and SFP.

It includes information on varieties, labels and data sheets, fertiliser market updates and a chemical store list.  There is also a file store in which growers can view documents uploaded by the agronomist and the facility to view Agrovista account information.

Axis Field Pro includes Greenlight Grower Management, with a field recording package and a seven-day Plantsystems weather forecast, along with a technical library and IGB of ‘cloud’ storage.

“Where the system really moves things forward is the actual data sharing part of it.  As soon as one person puts that data in, the rest of the people collaborating on that system have access to it.”

User Registered

MapIT Pro adds a Google-based farm mapping system.  “This really brings the precision farming element in to Axis.  Basically there are farm maps in your pocket.  When a grower registers for Axis, they can register the users,” he said.  The accounts person, for example, might just be given access to accounts information.

The grower gets to save time, particularly with the double handling of data.  “One of the biggest complaints is that the data is fragmented.  The amount of combine yield data sitting on memory card and never transferred is amazing.

“What we have tried to do is saver hours looking for information,” he said.  He put a value of 10 days saved on record keeping, for example, at £820 saved.

“As we build up a number of years’ data, all that information is there waiting to be used.”  He produced an example showing increasing yield using growth regulators to pus high potential areas harder and go easier on stressed or low potential areas.

“You don’t need big gains to make a difference to the bottom line,” he said.

 

06 June 2014

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