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The benefits of precision farming – Agronomist & Arable Farmer - Charles Wright, Farmacy.

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Linking precision technology and agronomy has led to steadily increasing yields for one Lincolnshire grower.

Using precision technology to gain a better understanding of what is happening in every part of the field in order to target inputs and make better informed and profitable management decisions is an approach that Farmacy agronomist Charles Wright strongly supports.

CW - In Crop Photo 1

He recognises that a good starting point is the yield maps generated by the combine, but points out that many growers are failing to get the most out of them.

However, rather than keep the good ones, ignore the bad ones and then forget about them until next year, Charles challenges growers to consider how this data can be used to make changes that will improve next year’s profitability.

“It’s really important to really understand where the profit or loss is coming from within a field and manage this accordingly – there is a gap between potential yields in a field and what is actually being seen - the challenge is to bridge this gap.”

“This could meanmanaging higher yield potential areas to push yields even further if they are not treated as the field average.”

“2018 was a challenging season so it’s not particularly useful to look at yield performance from this harvest in isolation and jump to any conclusions - and this is where being able to compare historical data for a field is invaluable.”

However, if historical performance has been poor and this has been borne-out again, why assume 2019 will be any different? he asks.

 “Doing this in a coherent and effective way that considers all of the factors that may be affecting that particular field or area of the field is the challenge but one that the Omnia Precision Agronomy’s unique field performance mapping facility overcomes,” says Charles.

Using Omnia’s yield performance mapping it’s possible to identify and map areas of fields by categorising them in terms of the consistency of performance such as poorly consistent yield, good consistent yield etc - and adapt crop management accordingly.

This is exactly what Charles has done with one of his clients, Chris Bealby of North Lodge Farm, near Grantham, Lincolnshire.

Collecting data in itself is nothing new to Chris, who had one of the earliest combines that offered yield mapping.

“I have yield maps since 1996 filed away in a drawer and whilst it was good to see what was coming off the field, I really needed to make more of the information as it was clear that yields were not heading in the right direction- but was unsure how to integrate this data into crop management decisions.”

It was about this time that Tim and Chris Wade of Graham Wade Farms Ltd became involved in farming North Lodge land, taking on the combining contract initially from which they took on the whole farm contracting.

Faced with declining crop yields and increasing black-grass challenges, the Wade’s knew that changes had to be made to the farm rotation with a much more focussed attention to detail.

Having been to the local Farmacy trials open day at Milthorpe in Lincs and hearing about Omnia, both Chris and the Wades’ were impressed by the way the system integrated data and agronomy.

“We needed to be able to access all the farm information, including the many years of yield maps, in one place and integrate this information into practical measures,” says Chris Wade

“Charles got us started with logging all of the fields into Omnia, but to be honest, the system was user friendly and pretty intuitive to setup ourselves.”

“Omnia is not fussy about using data from other systems so we were able to input all of the old yield maps into the system and then and build up this information with more recent yield data.”

Soils across North Lodge Farm range from red ironstone to heavy clay - even across one field -and where hillside fields dip away its notoriously difficult to get an even establishment, so this was a obvious area where we could use Omnia to develop variable drilling plans to accommodate the differences across fields, says Charles.

Working closely with the Wades and Chris Bealby, Charles drew up maps on soil type, seed bed quality, black-grass pressure and slug pressure.

“These maps were then overlaid with -yield maps; the variety and drilling information selected and Omnia generated a variable seed rate which gave us a more even plant establishment with the aim of having the correct number of plants established.”

“Without a more uniform plant stand you are always playing ‘catch up’ and have already lost potential.”

Tim Wade believes its all about marginal gains pointing out that even a 1% improvement in yields pays for any extra seed.

“Its all about making every hectare count.”

This is a real example of how utilising precision farming has brought about consistently higher yields across North Lodge’s range of soil types and cropping, adds Charles.

“We have been able to take this yield performance mapping a step further by incorporating the relative costs of production allowing us to see exactly what it is costing to grow the crop in different areas of a field.”

“As Chris had several years of yield maps we were able to layer all of this data against costs of production and we found that there were areas of some fields that just never really financially justified growing a crop, for example in one wheat field this ranged from £80t/ha to over £190/tonne!”

“This approach also confirmed a poor performing headland due to a combination of heavy soil and high shading from woodland, which we have taken out of production and this area will now form part of a mid-tier stewardship scheme planned for 2019.” -

“Income from Stewardship on this strip will make a positive contribution to the farm profit, rather than the loss from cropping it.”

It’s very clear that the team effort at North Lodge between the grower, contractor and agronomist and the integration of precision technology and agronomy has brought about profitable and sustainable success.