26 February 1999

Is it the future or a phase?

Precision farming, is it a

passing phase or the future

of profitable arable farming?

Geoff Ashcroft sought the

views of two growers with

very different opinions

TECHNOLOGY plays a big part in cereal production for Lincs farmer Robert Pask.

He has gone all-out down the precision farming route, investing in the latest GPS-based technology to allow seeds and fertilisers to be put only where deemed necessary.

"We are committed to cereal production, and getting the maximum yields from the minimum of inputs," says Mr Pask.

At the 385ha farm (950-acre) Heydour Lodge Farm, Bridge End Road, Grantham, Lincs, he has been gathering information from yield maps for the past five years from all his combinable crops, and a significant database is now at his disposal.

An MF 40RS combine with Fieldstar terminal provides the yield mapping information, while an Amazone ZA-M twin-disc spreader and Amazone RPD 4m power harrow/drill combination both share the Fieldstar unit for variable rate fertiliser and seed applications.

"Our spreader and drill had the facility to be retro-fitted with the right electronics to allow yield map information to be adapted to seed and fertiliser application maps," says Mr Pask. "It cost £12,000 to gear up to all mapping and variable rate application work."

To-date, only the sprayer has escaped the clutches of GPS-based technology, but Mr Pask is convinced this will play a big part in increasing his farms profitability.

"The future of arable farming lies with variable rate applications for every input," he says. "I need to know where I can trim any input, without affecting my yields and the only way I can achieve this is by yield mapping."

Mr Pask reckons he has cut inputs by 25% over the past five years without sacrificing yields, though not all is a direct result of precision farming techniques; it is a combination of that and discounted buying through the Aubourn Farming Group. "Both are contributing factors," he says.

Soil types across Heydour Lodge Farm range from Limestone brash to blue Lincolnshire clay, and were the main reasons he took the precision farming road.

"Our yields can vary so differently across individual fields, which means blanket applications of fertilisers and seed rates that are higher than they really need to be, are such a waste of resources," he says. "And though you can amend rates manually when you are spreading or drilling, it is not accurate enough.

"Most growers may reach their average target yields, but when analysed, this occurs only on about 15% of the field and is carried by the high yielding area. The other 85% of a field can easily receive too much or too little seed or fertilisers," he says.

"Our precision farming method means we can justify every application we make and I am convinced the investment has already paid for itself," he says.

Mr Pask reckons within five years, precision farming technology will become even more affordable and few will be farming without the aid of satellites.

FOR PRECISION

&#8226 Name Robert Pask.

&#8226 Farm Heydour Lodge Farm, Grantham, Lincs.

&#8226 Cropping 385ha split between wheat, malting barley and oilseed rape – 25% of all production is for seed.

&#8226 Yields Wheat – 8.6t/ha, Barley – 6.8t/ha.

&#8226 Soil types Limestone brash to blue Lincs clay.

&#8226 Agronomy skills Regular field walking with Aubourn Farming agronomist.

&#8226 Precision farming opinion Definitely the future of farming for those with varied soil types.