Using precision farming to fine tune inputs

3 July 1999

What you say…

Visitors to Cereals 99 were of one mind. They all showed steely determination to keep their businesses profitable in the face of continuing pressure on crop values. And as our on-the-spot survey shows, theyre not frightened of exploring radical solutions…

No till drill enthusiast –

Jim Bullock

SEED, sprays and other inputs have been trimmed back continuously over the past few years, so Jim Bullock of Malvern, Worcestershire, is looking to the next stage – cultivation savings – to meet the challenge of todays market values. Hes convinced that the radical no till drilling techniques now being used in the US could be successfully exploited in the UK, with a little tweaking to overcome imperial and metric differences in working widths. The machine under trial on his 364ha (900 acres) of wheat, rape, beans and linseed is the Krause. "Were confident its going to work well – its saving us an hour an acre in time, and £15-£20/acre in establishment costs." Other benefits are reduced erosion and leaching, and improvements to soil structure and timeliness.

Investing in potato storage –

Paul Hammerton

WITH contract root crops – crisping potatoes, sugar beet and carrots – providing the financial mainstay of cropping on 1,416ha (3,500 acres) of typically light land in Norfolk at Wroxham Home Farms, Paul Hammerton is at the mercy of big corporate buyers – a rather uncomfortable position when the going is tough. So hes bucking the trend and investing in new potato storage to give his business more control over its own destiny. "We must rise to the challenge – we cant stand still. Wed like to stay with crisping varieties – our land is well suited to their production – but storage will be the key to widening our opportunities. On beet, were going to take the risk and try growing the tonnage on a smaller area." Hes confident that pressure from the strong pound will eventually ease off. "Weve just got to ride it out and learn to market our products better."

A lean and mean business –

Henry Buxton

HES not frightened of spending the extra on new strobilurin chemistry, but Henry Buxton will be taking a close look as to exactly where inputs are going on his 500ha (1,236 acres) at Ware, Hertfordshire, next season. "Were already reasonably well placed to face the future, but well be reviewing the labour force and we want to find out which fungicides are best suited to which varieties."

Following up the French lead –

Simon Boughton

WE may think times are hard in the UK, but the French suffered this pain earlier on, says Simon Boughton of Velcourt. The company provides consultancy on 20,000ha (50,000 acres) in France. "Although theyre at rock bottom, prices have at least been steady in France – producers havent had to cope with the highs and lows that UK growers have seen. Thats made it somewhat easier for them to adapt. The emphasis is on reducing fixed costs, maintaining quality and increasing yield – and the French climate is more conducive to high yields anyway. French growers are quick to take up the new technology – they want anything that will help boost production."

Weighing up continuous wheat –

Ron Gabain

LIGHT land cropping of beet and malting barley at the 1,416ha (3,500-acre) Stetch-worth Estate, Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, will stay as it is – its the heavy land rotation that needs attention, reckons Ron Gabain. Hes considering whether to switch from a wheat/beans or linseed system to continuous wheat on heavy fields to bolster profitability. "Were looking at those new take-all seed treatments and drilling techniques – if we can use these within a context of reduced fixed costs. Machinery and labour are our biggest fixed costs, and were continuing to focus on this." As a signed-up member of MAFFs flagship environmental arable management programme, the Arable Stewardship scheme, Mr Gabain is committed to farming in a manner which takes heed of consumer issues and possible future cross compliance.

Using precision farming to fine tune inputs –

Robert Pask

The farming future is positive. "Yes – everyones got to restructure – but thats ultimately good for business," says Robert Pask who farms 615ha (1,520 acres) near Grantham, Lincolnshire. "Were using precision farming to maximise our margins." True – the technology may seem like an expensive investment, but its worthwhile because it means he can make better use of fertiliser, fungicide and seed, he argues. Trials on his farm show "huge potential" from sophisticated remote sensing kit such as the N Sensor. "Its flexible – a lot of the new precision equipment can be retro fitted to existing machinery, so its not as expensive as you might think. And it doesnt have to be complicated – if I can do it, anyone can. Precision farming is just another management tool. Theres still a lot to learn, but it does make you re-think what youre doing."

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