Technology's flying on the UK's arable farms

Taken from Sentry, Spring 2017

Over 30% of farms are now routinely using some form of'precision'technology according to Lewis McKerrow of Agrovista. He predicts that the growth in its uptake will be rapid, with adoption being driven by machinery manufacturers and farmers' intrigue in what kit can do.

"In recent years, tractors, sprayers, spreaders and combines are being sold with sensing, recording and measuring 'extras' now being supplied as standard;" he explains. "Meanwhile, drones, cloud applications and software are now commonplace in many farm businesses."

"It is very apparent that personal interest is encouraging investigation and investment in precision tools, primarily either by technically minded operators wanting more accurate measurement, or younger farmers opting to implement a more tech-driven management style when they take over managing farm businesses."

'Precision' covers a multitude of systems, he suggests, from soil and yield mapping, to variable-rate application of seed, spray and fertiliser, through 
to precise forecasting of weather and disease and machine automation or autosteer.

"Brisk advances in technology are making access to precision tools, easier, better and cheaper;' he adds. "Drone developments, in particular, fascinates me. This time last year, the accurate mapping of blackgrass and brome would have required a high-end drone with an NOVI camera, costing around £10,000 and requiring a specialist operator. Today, you can buy a DJI drone that will produce a similar map with standard camera gear, and cost you under £1,000. Using it is simple, all you need to do is download the operating app to your smartphone and you can weed map the whole of my farm yourself, to a very detailed standard."

However, to make the most of the technology, he maintains that getting to know the kit you have and the data it generates, is the first step."Then it's important to think about what you want additional technology to achieve for you, which could be matching variable rate sowing to soil type, or measuring and explaining yield variability across your farm."

It also makes sense to consider what technology is fitted when you buy new or secondhand machinery. "For example, both Claas and John Deere now have Telematics as optional extras, the systems are connectable to the internet and will seamlessly transfer real-time data from the cab straight in to your central storage."

Key to all technology contributing quantifiable returns, is one manufacturer's system being able to 'talk' to another, or having access to tools that will convert one data source to match another. "Manufacturers are getting better at generating common data outputs, but there are still limitations and frustrations, particularly with older models."

Agrovista has made significant investment in to their Axis system - a cloud-based agronomy management service designed to help streamline farm record­ keeping and data flow from disparate sources. The strength of the system has been making in-house developments and working with key software partners such as Muddy Boots Software.

"The Axis software  crunches crop biomass  data scanned several times over a season, from establishment through to early yield prediction at ear emergence, to create field zones for variable seed rate and spray and fertiliser mapping," he says.

In addition, Axis provides very accurate weather and spray forecasting, and a future development  is to  use yield data, grain prices, diesel and seed cost to calculate  return  on investment.

"Even with the functionality we have today, this tool effectively allows you to make decisions for the next crop rather than just reviewing what happened last season," Mr McKerrow adds."It's all very good monitoring and applying variable crop treatments in-season, but key to getting the most from the technology, is using your farm and soil data to get crop establishment right and to minimise rectifying treatments required during the growing season."

 

03 March 2017

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