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Farm trial seeks to determine benefits of precision farming

June 30, 2017 by  
Filed under News & Business

LewisMcKerrow-Drone

A large-scale on-farm trial in Cambridgeshire is investigating how precision farming can be used most effectively to influence agronomy and practical farm management.

The Agrovista trial is taking place over several years at David Wakefield’s Manor Farm, near Ramsey. It is comparing current farm practice with new techniques using a range of precision farming technologies.

“The aim is to bring together the various elements that are associated with precision farming to provide clear decision-making evidence in a commercial situation,” says Agrovista’s head of precision technology Lewis McKerrow.

Variations

Known as Plantsystems Technology prescription (PTRx) trials, the experiment is taking place across four fields totalling 107ha, with significant variations in soil type, aspect and water retention.

Concepts under test include soil zoning, variable rate seed, soil moisture measurements, weather information and crop sensing using drones and a tractor-mounted Isaria. The trial is also scrutinising costs and financial benefits.

Soil zoning was carried out last summer using a Veris MSP3 sensor, which measures electro-conductivity to indicate soil type, pH, and organic matter – as well as topographical information such as elevation, slope and curve.

“The maps show how variable these fields really are,” says Mr McKerrow. “Crops are clearly going to perform differently, so we need to interpret this data to drive decisions to get the best out of these soils.”

Some success

This season variable rate seeding was introduced with some success. Fields were drilled after ploughing with winter wheat at the end of October, producing plant counts of 148-184/sq m, compared with the farm’s target of 185 plants/sq m.

Variable rate N was applied according to the Isaria’s measurement of crop biomass, yield maps and a crop biomass/N uptake scan taken by a drone fitted with a near infra-red camera.

Results will be assessed and the programme adjusted next season, says Mr McKerrow.

Although too early to draw any conclusions, drone scans confirm that field variability has been smoothed to some extent in year one.

Agrovista will report in more detail on how successful the correlation has been between mapping, decision-making and resulting margins after harvest, and how the programme will be adapted in year two based on those results.

 

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