10 July 1998

Select technology to suit your farm

PRECISION farming techniques have much to offer, but do not get carried away by the technology.

"Select the technology, do not let it select you," said precision farming co-ordinator, Peter Dampney. "Each individual has to identify and select appropriate technologies for their farm. We support the concept, but is it cost-effective?"

Farms with inherent variability in yields were most likely to benefit, with yield mapping the first step to consider, advised Mr Dampney. But the variations must be consistent year on year, before changing variable inputs. But chronic problems, such as rabbit damage or soil acidity, may be rectified cheaply with immediate benefit, he said.

Existing sources of data such as aerial photos, soil maps or local knowledge should be maximised before investing in more expensive techniques. Then adopting a zoned approach, dividing fields into management areas, was preferable to whole field, hectare block, techniques. That approach lacked precision and meant unnecessary effort on other parts of the field, warned Mr Dampney. Where soil sampling was necessary, more precise analysis was advised.

At the leading edge of precision technology for growers are remote sensing techniques, measuring the light reflectance of crops. "These could give us early warning on diseases, or help match fertiliser inputs to canopy structure." &#42