Precision farming has a vital role to play in reducing soil erosion, as well as saving on inputs and improving yield, according to Jake Freestone, farm manager at Overbury Estates in Gloucester.

He wants to automatically place bands of seed in tramlines at specific intervals to intercept water and soil run-off during the winter, rather than his manual practice of simply pulsing seed at intervals.

“The drill could even use the altitude information from the tractor to work out spacings between the bands. The steeper the angle, the larger the bands of seed or the more frequently they appear,” he said.

He told the Oxford Farming Conference audience that variable rate seeding enables the farm to be more accurate in how much seed is used and where it is planted.

It costs Overbury £3.50/ha annually, which he calculates only requires a wheat yield increase of 23kg/ha for his budget to breakeven at £150t/ha, and, assuming total seed use stays the same.

But do the economics justify smaller farms adopting precision farming? He cited the example of a 360ha arable farm growing combinable crops and managed by just one man, which is already making pesticide savings of £5,100/ha per year.

The farm changed its cultivation strategy to reduce costs, purchasing a 3m one pass cultivation and drilling system, a new tractor with automated steering and then followed up a year later with a trailed sprayer to fully integrate into precision farming. Investment in the equipment was paid back in just 18 months, he said.

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