BlackBox helps keep crop spray assurance records on track

GPS, computer software and the internet have come together to make crop spraying records easier to compile, while providing all the details needed to satisfy crop assurance demands.

Spending time filling in forms and other paperwork is not everyone’s ideal way of finishing off a busy day’s spraying – but it’s an essential part of the spraying contractor’s workload.

But the task has become a lot easier for Gloucestershire contractor Tim Searle, who uses job-recording software built into his steering guidance system.


In less than half a minute, the dGPS system on Tim Searle’s 24m, 2000-litre sprayer knows whose field it’s sitting in and displays the job record ready to make a start.

“Instead of writing the application details of each job on the agronomist’s recommendation sheet for the customer and then doing the same again for my own records, I only have to do it once,” he says. “My own log is recorded on a memory stick and then uploaded through my computer to a website, where it’s stored.”

The information includes a digital map that shows exactly where the Househam sprayer has worked in each field, which, apart from being potentially useful for crop assurance and cross-compliance requirements, provides useful evidence if there is a dispute over “missed strips” or other problems.

“The system’s easy to use and makes the logging process that much simpler – as well as providing more detail than a manual system,” says Mr Searle. “All I want now is to receive the agronomists’ job sheets by email into the unit and I’d have even less paperwork to do.”

And that is not beyond the bounds of possibility, says Richard Price of Patchwork Technology, because now it is certainly possible to upload such data via the flash memory stick from the office computer. A wireless version that sends all the data by wi-fi or mobile phone is in development for next year, he adds.

The potential for using a semi-automated job-logging system presented itself when Mr Searle was casting around for a new guidance system and was given a demonstration of the Raven Cruizer unit with Patchwork’s BlackBox software installed.

The Cruizer’s graphic display and lightbar combination has proved an attractive guidance tool for pre-emergence spraying on combinable crops and both pre- and post-emergence treatments to forage maize.

In total, Mr Searle reckons his 24m, 2000-litre Househam self-propelled sprayer clocks up 6000-6900ha (15,000-17,000 acres) of spray treatments on farms local to his base at Staunton, near Hartpury, Gloucestershire.

But even when tramlines mean the guidance system is largely redundant, the Cruizer is busy building job records.

BlackBox software comes in three levels of sophistication – Plus, which generates job records and the where-I’ve-sprayed trace Pro, which adds the ability to include agronomists’ work plans and make detailed notes and WebTrack, an online service for storing and managing the information contained in the records.

WebTrack is the most recent development. It provides secure back-up storage of records, remote access to those records through any computer connected to the internet, and the facility to email records to other interested parties, such as customers and organisations involved in the assurance chain.

“Contractors often act as unpaid record-keepers for their spraying customers,” says Mr Price. “WebTrack makes it simple to extract an individual set of farm or field records when an inspection is made, which is much easier than sorting through paper record systems.”

The software installed in the Cruizer (and soon available for the Raven Envizio Pro and Viper Pro instruments) allows users to create a simple log menu to suit their own requirements. A database of clients and individual fields is compiled as each site is treated for the first time.

“On the first visit, I drive around the perimeter to create a record of the field and its area,” says Mr Searle. “Whenever I return to that field, the dGPS system recognises its position and calls up the relevant record. It saves having to manually pull up the client/field details each time.”

Once the operator has confirmed it is the correct record, the system automatically switches to guidance and spraying gets under way.

“When the job is finished, it takes only moments to select each log item from the menu using the Cruizer’s touch screen and to select the appropriate entry to complete the record before moving on to the next field,” says Mr Searle.

Back at the home office, uploading records from a day’s spraying takes no more than five to 10 minutes and the flash memory stick that slots into the back of the Cruizer is automatically cleared for re-use.

“Apart from providing essential records, it’s a useful reminder for billing,” says Mr Searle. “It’s easy to dash off one morning to do a bit of stubble cleaning and forget to make a note. Now I can just check through the records and make sure I’m billing for everything and doing it accurately.”