26 April 1996

You dont have to be high-tech to try precision

By Robert Harris

A PRECISION farming system which can be used without expensive machinery or computer investment is ready to service several million acres of UK arable land.

Farmsense, from Galaxy PrecisionAg Services, a subsidiary of J and &#42 Bunn of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, is a precision farming system for the masses, says GPS director John Fuller.

At present, such systems are associated with computer enthusiasts who farm large areas, he believes. "We want to take it out of that niche market – to debunk the idea that you need to be high-tech to go precision farming."

Farmers do not have to understand the theory behind it, or buy pricey or complicated equipment, he points out.

Farmsense uses satellite images which measure crop growth. "When a crop is growing well, it absorbs certain colours, particularly red, and reflects others, especially green. The satellite records subtle differences in these reflections 25 times per hectare."

The company converts the raw data into a colour-coded farmer-friendly map, which identifies crop growth in 20m squares.

"By highlighting the best and worst parts of each field, growers and advisers can focus their effort exactly where it is required," says Mr Fuller.

There are many potential factors that can affect crop performance, he notes. Compaction, pests, diseases, poor drainage or nutritional deficiencies are some of the more common ones. So correct interpretation of a problem is vital.

The farmers own local knowledge coupled with expert agronomic advice is the best way of identifying the right response, he advises.

Bunns own Big A fertiliser spreaders are equipped with variable application equipment which, when used with a smart card containing the field data, applies more or less fertiliser as needed.

GPS has enough photographic data to service 2m hectares (5m acres). More is planned.

Subscribers do not have to be Bunn customers. The service will cost less than £12.50/ha (£5/acre) for one set of maps a year.

New satellite technology and a reduction in turnaround time could see such imagery being used to influence current agronomy.

"With infra-red, you can see some problems 10 days before you can with the naked eye. One day we could cure problems before they appear," says Mr Fuller. &#42