Growers piloting a new system that manages their precision farming operations online says it improves flexibility and allows them to maintain control of their operations.
The IPF Toolbox from precision farming specialists The Courtyard Partnership is an internet-based system which allows farm managers and advisors to log in and create their own variable-input maps.
It’s an extension of the firm’s Intelligent Precision Farming (IPF) concept which varies inputs according to soil type and aims to simplify the process, transferring information to field operations.
The site produces nutrient plans automatically according to RB209 which can be downloaded from the website to the office computer. These can then be transferred to the tractor via a portable memory stick. Previously, programmes were prepared by the company and the memory stick was posted to the customer.
Growers or their agronomists are able to manipulate rates if they see fit and The Courtyard Partnership still offers a service to produce plans on a grower’s behalf. A recent update includes a tool to ensure growers remain NVZ compliant. P and K, Nitrogen and seed rates are the main variables managed on the site but, according to the firm’s Vince Gillingham, almost any form of variable application can be managed. “Some growers are varying slug pellets and muck applications,” he says.
Currently half of the farmers signed up to the IPF service have converted to the website, which equates to an area of 30,000ha. “As plans can be produced more efficiently the cost is reduced by about 15%,” he says. “It will also be available through a couple of national agronomy firms and the total service is roughly a quarter of the price of competing precision farming services.”
Richard Oram farms 600ha from his base at Manor Farm near Devizes, Wiltshire, and uses the system to manage variable-rate fertiliser and farmyard manure applications. He plans to adopt variable-rate seeding next autumn.
The web system has given him the flexibility to vary inputs himself, he says. “As all the fields and zones are loaded on the system it’s simple and it’s an excellent way of storing farm records.”
P and K was the first input to be varied using the system’s calculator and the help of his agronomist. “As we are a mixed farm our indices are already very high, ranging from 1.8 to 4 so we just top up using artificial P and K,” he says. “When prices went through the roof last year it came into its own.”
He started variable-rate nitrogen applications last year and after fitting a computer to his muck spreader he has been able to vary farmyard manure applications. “We used to blanket apply and as long as the field looked brown we were happy,” he says. “But we can now target it where it is really needed.”
Robert Lawton grows 1,200ha at North Farm, Aldbourne, Wiltshire. “It has definitely saved money and is well worth the investment,” he says. “It has also allowed me to maintain good yields on relatively poor land.”
The fact that it is web-based is a major benefit, he says. “You don’t have to worry about keeping software up to date on your computer and you can access it from any machine.”
The system’s simplicity means he is able to hand management operations over to a third party while maintaining control. “If I don’t have time to create my own plans I can get someone else to do it but still keep an eye on things.”
As nutrient plans are stored on the system he can accurately predict fertiliser requirements at the start of the season. “In some cases we have been able to buy in bulk, which offers substantial savings and means you don’t have bags to dispose of.”
Jeremy Margesson is in the first year of variable rate seeding on the 1000ha he grows at Burderop Farm near Swindon. “It means we can up seed-rates in areas that are known for their poor establishment,” he says. “Increasing rates by 30% in areas prone to high slug pressure or rabbit damage could help bring them into line with the rest of the field.”
He manages P and K and seed rates and was beginning to experiment with variable-rate nitrogen. He is also considering variable slug pellet application. “The system gives us the flexibility to create new zones and we should be able to define high slug pressure areas,” he says.
The system hasn’t saved money directly, but is improving efficiency and reducing waste, he says “Increasing environmental pressures mean we need to show we are operating as accurately as we can – this system helps us do that.”