Fine-tuned inputs lead to better profits

22 February 2002

Fine-tuned inputs lead to better profits

LAST year was not a good one for many in UK farming.

For Yorks farmer and contractor Clive Blacker wet weather and foot-and-mouth disease thwarted progress towards an increasingly precise arable production system.

"It was a difficult year all round," says Mr Blacker, who operates from Church Farm, Shipton-by-Beningbrough, near York. "Much of the contracting area was inaccessible and, like others, we had to redrill some fields with spring cropping."

But this year should see a return to his full-steam-ahead approach to developing precision farming technology. "We have got GPS units on everything now, so I can analyse everything we do, even the ploughing. This gives us information we have never had before, enabling us to cost every operation accurately."

All data from his GPS systems is fed into Farmades Amais computer module to get the best from the information and facilitate full on-farm traceability.

This season two of Hydros N-Sensors will be used to underpin his drive towards precision farming. One will be tractor mounted mainly for use on his own 500ha (1200-acre) farm, while the other is offered as a scanning-only service to contract clients, being frame-mounted above a quad bike.

But the sensors are not simply tools for adjusting N rates, he says. Other uses for the systems, which use an on-tractor sensor to assess crop thickness and vigour through the reflected colour of the crop, include work with growth regulators and fungicides and a growing role in a widening range of crops.

"We are using the Sensor all year round now," he says. "It has become a very useful management tool in conjunction with crop walking, explaining thin and thick areas, identifying areas with possible disease pressure, and building up a complete picture of each field. We may even try using it to target weeds in sugar beet."

The N-Sensor, in its original role as a means of regulating nitrogen fertiliser application rates, has brought dual benefits to the cereals grown at Church Farm, in terms of yield and quality.

Wheat yields have risen by as much as 0.6t/ha over the non-sensed control areas, while quality is better across the board, making premiums much more achievable, says Mr Blacker.

He sees particularly good potential for using the system to combat this years higher lodging pressure, particularly in thicker, early drilled crops. "Trials using the Sensor with Moddus plant growth regulator here in Yorkshire last year demonstrated a slight margin increase," he says. "But similar work in Scotland generated a 0.25t/ha benefit."

The system is now used to vary the flow of liquid fertiliser to give a more precise and environmentally friendly result. "With the new Micron sprayer system we can achieve a high degree of accuracy."

This year sees the first Hydro-backed calibration for the N-Sensors use on oilseed rape crops and Mr Blacker hopes further work will result in a similar status for potatoes later this season. &#42

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