Friday, October 19, 2018

How ‘big picture data’ can boost arable farm sustainability

July 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Crops

Arable profitability can be boosted by using ‘big picture data to spot agronomic trends, provide an early warning of potential crop problems and identify beneficial management practices, says agronomy firm ProCam.

The company recently launched its latest ProCam 4Cast results – a crop database that gathers information from some 30,000ha of arable enterprises annually, collating information on cultivations, drilling dates, crop inputs and yields.

ProCam managing director John Bianchi said the service could prove to be an important tool to help bolster the financial sustainability of farms as they navigate the government’s reformulated agricultural policy in the unknown waters of Brexit.

Mr Bianchi said: “Financial sustainability means individual crops in the rotation need to be profitable, for example by maximising yields and minimising costs of production. But it also means the rotation as a whole is profitable, and any agronomic challenges are addressed.”

Better wheat yields

ProCam 4Cast holds over 500,000 ha of data collected from real farms over multiple seasons. Mr Bianchi said it could be used to analyse trends, inform decisions, and benchmark top-performing farms to help other farms improve.

Last year, for example, the average winter wheat yield was 9.2t/ha for ProCam 4Cast growers – some 0.9t/ha above the Defra average. Better still, the top 25% of ProCam 4Cast growers averaged 10.4 t/ha, some 2.1 t/ha above the Defra average.

“By increasing efficiency of production, farmers can offset some of the harmful reductions in support payments,” explained Mr Bianchi. “The main prerequisite for improvement is a commitment to attention to detail in every decision.”

Most profitable combination

ProCam head of crop production Nick Myers said big picture data could also help when planning profitable rotations. It could make shorter-term decisions easier, for example by showing the impact of drilling date on yield over a large area.

Mr Myers said: “Latest ProCam 4Cast data from harvest 2017 revealed that winter oilseed rape remained the most profitable combinable crop option – just ahead of winter wheat. But of course this is only part of planning a rotation.”

Growers also needed to examine the impact of the previous crop on current crop yield. We have this information for winter wheat over multiple seasons. Data confirms that winter oilseed rape yields, for example, are indeed lower after spring barley.

Adapting agronomy

“This is important to know – not to get rid of spring barley, which is increasingly grown to counteract blackgrass, but so you can adapt oilseed rape agronomy,” said Mr Myers.

ProCam data also suggests that delaying the average winter wheat drilling date from 2 October to 12 October between 2011 and 2017 had no detrimental impact on yield. “The thinking is that any yield penalty from later drilling is offset by crops containing less blackgrass.”

Mr Myers added: “There may be scope for more growers to drill later. While the peak drilling date for the majority of growers was early October, the peak for growers in the top 25% for winter wheat gross margin was after mid-October.”

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