Variable inputs save time and money
Goal to secure return on investment
Technology can future-proof business
Achieving even greater precision is a key goal for Daniel Wormell, who farms 600ha of arable land at Langenhoe, Essex.
The family-run business – PR Wormell Farms crops some 550ha near the Colne estuary, with the rest under environmental schemes. Milling wheat is the primary crop in a rotation with winter beans, linseed and grain maize.
Mr Wormell already applies seed and fertiliser variably. But he wants to go further – ultimately applying all inputs in the same way. The reason for that is because he sees significant change ahead.
“The direction we are heading looks clear. In the future it is likely all farms will be cropping a smaller area than they do now. Also, we will be more accountable – any input will need to be targeted and justifiable.”
How much will be cropped in the future remains to be seen. But whatever the area, Mr Wormell knows it must still deliver a profit. His focus is on maximising the potential of every cropped area – but doing so in more austere regulatory environment.
Nowhere will this be more keenly felt as in East Anglia. The area one of the UK’s most productive for crop production – and it is incredibly habitat diverse. This means there can be competing interests when it comes to land management.
With wetlands, shore, woodland and heaths, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk have close to 400 sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) alone. Before Covid, tourism generated £10bn to the East Anglia economy – a good part of that through nature tourism.
Genetics is clearly part of the solution. So is a more prescriptive agronomic approach but that can only be done with accurate field data. That was the driver for Mr Wormell trialling Bayer’s digital platform Climate FieldView.
“Genetics is already playing a part,” he explains. “Group 2 varieties like Extase with good inherent disease profiles aren’t currently an option for us but it offers others the opportunity to reduce fungicide use.”
There are hardware limitations – but technology will play a big part in reducing fungicides too. “The future isn’t refining fungicide strategy by variety but by field – adjusting rates based on plant biomass and disease pressure.”
“At the moment variable application is somewhat limited by machine boom width removing the ability to vary rates across it. This reduces our capacity to fully tailor crop needs but the ability to apply variable rates to very defined areas of a field is not far away.”
Mr Wormell was an early adopter of technology and quickly supplied iPads to the PR Wormell farm team so all operations could be logged in Gatekeeper efficiently. This saved time – but more importantly eliminated data entry errors.
But FieldView goes a step further, especially with the need to optimise every acre of cropped land. A key attraction is the ease with which yield results can be precisely overlayed with a raft of agronomic data, particularly variable rate applications.
“We can look at any part of the field with FieldView, even down to really small field areas. It is going to make the process of evaluating detailed precision farming strategies simpler and more comprehensive.
“Future-proofing our business can only come about by performance gains across all parts of the farm. Genetics is one route to improving yields throughout a field but so is data to fine tune agronomic strategies across a field accordingly,” he notes.
With a smaller cropping area, some field areas might come out of production completely. FieldView will allow Mr Wormell to build up a picture of field performance over several seasons and identify the most appropriate parts to be taken out of cropping.
He also feels it might help with more basic decisions. He likes the ability to specify variety and is looking forward to see how winter bean varieties Tundra and Wizard perform.
“It was more accident than design but we’ve ended up with a field containing both varieties. Of course, we’ll be able to compare the two when we see the data coming in from the combine.”
“It will be interesting to see how both varieties perform. Another benefit with FieldView is if I have my tablet with me, I know which variety I’m looking at when crop walking, and can see historic drilling or application information.”
It also provides an alternative to tractor telematics, with the added benefit of seeing application rates in the field. And that data is realtime and accessible anytime, anywhere, useful with the more fluid and mobile lifestyle of today.
“Like others, Covid means my two boys have been home schooling but I can get realtime data when away from the business.”
Mr Wormell admits that he hasn’t used all the functionality within of FieldView but it is early days. Hopefully this season he will get to use some of the suite of Field Health tools and he recognises that variations in biomass could be an early indication of a problem.
“My focus to-date has been around yield variation across the field, particularly those field areas that could be costing us money. But as I get more experience so my use of the platform will increase.”