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Using Precision Technology to Increase Yields and Reduce Costs

Using Precision Technology to Increase Yields and Reduce Costs

12 March 2014

ANALYSIS - A general even application of nitrogen, phosphate and potash might not only waste fertiliser adding cost but it might not give the best yields.

With a better knowledge of soil types, moisture content and the characteristics of the land, a more targeted approach to the application of specific nutrients can raise yields while cutting costs at the same time.

To achieve a more detailed knowledge of individual fields, modern techniques of precision farming using satellite mapping techniques alongside lab tests of soil samples can give the farmer the upper hand in being able to spread the specific fertilisers where they are needed and to provide information on specific seed rates across fields to ensure optimum yields.

“The initial challenge is to make application principles cost effective,” Stuart Campbell, an agronomist with Frontier Agriculture, told the Precision Farming exhibition and conference in Peterborough.

“With precision technology you have a box in the cab of the tractor to carry out the role.”

Mr Campbell said using GPS technology, soil nutrient variations can be mapped and combined with local knowledge, and fertiliser can be targeted to the field’s needs.

Precision nutrient management can offer benefits of between £10 and £12 per hectare over a flat rate application.

Satellite remote sensing technology can also help identify the development of the leaf on the crop and then the new technology can control the input of nitrogen onto the soil at a variable rate, giving the precise amount necessary to produce an even crop.

With targeted variable applications of nitrogen through the growing season, yields can be increased by up to eight per cent.

The scans and nitrogen applications should be made about four or five times during a season.

“By the end and the last map, it is usually a flat rate application of nitrogen,” he said.

He added that the yield map should show a fairly even yield with even the poor areas of the field at the start of the season doing as well as the others.

By also measuring the electrical conductivity of the soil, another map can be drawn up to show the seed rate that is suitable for each part of the field to obtain the optimum harvest.

However, Mr Campbell advised that the electrical conductivity scan should be conducted in a single operation as the moisture content of the soil can change the conductivity.

By measuring and sampling the field for the pH values, the amounts of phosphates and potash that are needed can also be assessed in a similar way.

The mapping can pick up low and high pH levels and indicate areas to spread lime and the degree of application. Phosphate application can be adjusted in a similar way.

Performance mapping can show the areas that are underperforming in yield and enable the farmer to adjust inputs to lift productivity.

Adopting similar mapping processes for herbicides, fungicides, product growth regulators and product comparisons and logging all the information into the GPS system can lift productivity.

Different technology using drones to photograph and scan the field can also help to measure the soil for variable depth cultivation.

With variable depth cultivation the technology measures the density of the soil to calculate water penetration and will help to control run off in the field and loss of nutrients.

Drone technology can assist the agronomist to understand the depth and content of the soil and by using them to check the colour of the leaves of the crop, there can be an early warning system for disease and invasive plants to know where and what to spray.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

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