21 June 2002

Realistic price needed for real-time assessing

By Andrew Swallow

REAL-TIME crop assessments using Hydros N-Sensor could involve much more than variable rate nitrogen, but only if costs become more realistic, says a precision farming enthusiast.

"The price is prohibiting progress, particularly on smaller farms," maintains Clive Blacker, a Yorks farmer and contractor who has used the tool to fine-tune nitrogen applications.

At present, a sensor costs £10,000 to buy or £4500/year to lease, plus an annual software update charge of £1000/year, he says. Furthermore, most growers already have fertiliser spreading equipment on the farm, so it is hard to justify hiring in an N-sensing spreader, he adds.

"I have altered the way I am using it. I am running it as a scanning service for other growers." They can then analyse the crop density charts produced and alter fertiliser rates or other inputs accordingly.

At least one contractor has been forced to stop offering the service this season. Grower Geoff Kealey, of Harpswell, near Gainsborough, Lincs, is concerned for his milling wheat protein as a result. "I think it is the biggest step forward for years in growing milling wheat."

Trials with the N-sensor monitoring crop biomass and varying late liquid nitrogen applications accordingly show protein content is raised by an average 0.1% compared with the same total nitrogen applied uniformly. Sample variability from the field also reduced.

"Not many people have taken this on board," says Mr Blacker, who is offering the late N variable rate service at £5/ha (£2/acre) in an attempt to raise grower awareness.

"But long-term I am convinced we can get more out of variable rate fungicides or pgrs with N-Sensor. It is better than any other precision tool on the market, because it is real-time." &#42

&#8226 Protein & yield boost with N.

&#8226 Hardware cost concerns.

&#8226 Cereals and osr packages.

&#8226 Potatoes & sugar beet soon.