Pocket tape-measure drives precision farming

Precision farming is not just about sophisticated technology. The humble tape measure can be just as useful.

“Check the true width of a 3m drill or 6m cultivator, a few centimetres either way needs to be taken into account and can make a significant difference to on-farm management,” Ian Beecher-Jones, facilitator of the HGCA’s Be-PRECISE project, told the CropWorld conference in London.

Measuring inaccuracies in-field is worthwhile too. Check true tramline widths, using Google Earth’s distance calculator tool. For example a 6m drill and 24m tramline system working with a 4% overlap gives an effective drill width of 5.75m. Using medium accuracy guidance systems can cut that to a 1.6% overlap and with RTK (Real Time Kinematic) guidance to 0.33%.

But is it worthwhile? Again using Google Earth a 12.6ha field shows 52 runs of the drill, which could be cut to 50 with better guidance. At a diesel cost of 50p/litre, medium accuracy guidance cut fuel spend by £74, or £91 with a more sophisticated RTK system. Fertiliser and crop protection savings were £64 and £153, respectively, taking total savings to £138 and £244.

Across a 500ha farm that is £5,500 and £9,500 accordingly. If the timeliness of operations improves too, further benefits can be reaped. “All it takes is a tape measure to take ownership of the farm’s accuracy.”

Similarly, nitrogen management based on aerial imaging, and soil nutrient mapping, using virtual hedges around areas of different need, can bring worthwhile savings. Even a nutrient replacement map, based on what is removed in yield, can improve application planning, improving margins by up to £15/ha, through raised yield and reduced costs.

Soil texture mapping allows seed rates to be fine-tuned according to soil status, bringing some savings in input costs, but also easing crop management and disease control.

See more at www.hgca.com/beprecise

See more