13 March 1998

Like it or not, agricultures in computer age

Computer literate or not,

visitors attending this years

Precision Farming event

should have found plenty of

data to boot up interest in

the latest developments in

precision farming

techniques. Andy Collings

and Geoff Ashcroft report

THERE is no denying it, precision farming – yield maps, spatially variable applications and GPS navigation systems – has become something of a cult: You either support its claimed yield enhancing, cost cutting philosophies, or you dont.

Those who came on down to the Precision Farming event in Peterborough last week were, in the main, converts of the concept and more than keen to expand their understanding of the latest technological advances, of which there were several.

But there were also visitors who, while willing to listen and inquire, were not entirely convinced that such a sizeable investment in the equipment required was justified. Bearing in mind the relatively short time precision farming systems have been advocated, that is not entirely surprising.

But what is certain is that farming has moved into the computer age and, like it or not, computer aided systems will eventually become the norm.

It is a point not lost on an electronics industry which, until the advent of GPS, had little if any interest in agriculture. Now, the floodgates are open with a host of hardware and software manufacturers keen to cash in.

Many farmers, more used to cylinder blocks and cows teats, might say such companies are moving too fast, creating systems beyond the understanding of the mere mortal. And, for the disbeliever, systems which may offer little financial return.

Recognition, though, eventually dawns on even the most ardent computer boffin blessed with a modicum of commercial awareness. At this years event the emphasis was on understanding and, if it can be described as such, simplicity.

On the Chavtrac stand, for example, subsidiary firm Patchwork Technology demonstrated its new software package – Patchwork Lite. Designed to be used with Raven chemical injection systems it is claimed to offer a degree of user friendliness in terms of operation and system compatibility.

In its most basic form, the user first installs a field map on a computers screen, sourced from, says Patchwork, any mapping system. A grid is then placed over the field (the size of the squares is adjustable) and then the required weed control pesticides can be programmed in, the data being transferred to the sprayers control system by a card. Ravens GPS application management system can handle as many as five different chemicals at a time.

Simple in its concept, it clearly requires prior knowledge of the weeds and their locations in a field. "Not beyond the scope of a manager who knows his fields," maintains the company.