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Smart Farming

3 Digital Solutions to Manage Field Variability in Farming

There are many reasons why it’s important to manage field variability, from determining inputs, yield and quality to driving decisions about crop choice and rotation.

There’s also the aspect of managing machinery optimisation or controlling a farm’s carbon balance. Traditional methods will suffice in some cases, but digital solutions can help to measure and map the ‘grey areas’ to best manage any variabilities.

‘Managing’ these variabilities in more detail may mean varying seed, nutrients, organic manures, and other inputs, or adjusting cultivations, switching areas out of production, or enhancing the carbon footprint of an individual crop, or the whole farm.

3 digital solutions for managing field variability

1. Omnia Precision

What is it? – A precision agronomy system that allows farmers to assess variation, understand the causes, make appropriate management decisions and adjust field operations accordingly.

“Omnia hosts, manages and informs, rather than just storing data, thereby putting the user in control,” says Oliver Wood of Hutchinsons.

This view is shared by Philip Wright of Wright Solutions and SRUC’s Dr Paul Hargreaves, who both feel more data improves decision-making. Having the best possible picture of soil type, nutrient indices and structure is important, but Philip says combining this with other data sources adds to the picture.

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 Philip Wright of Wright Solutions (left) and SRUC’s Dr Paul Hargreaves (right)

Vegetative maps and regional field yield data can highlight problem pockets and the impact on field performance, allowing these to be investigated in detail. Knowing what the problem is, its impact, and cause, allows growers to plan ways to rectify matters.

Some issues will be relatively easy fixes, whereas more fundamental problems require a longer-term approach and possibly significant outlay. Again, the better the data, the more informed the decision-making process will be.

2. SOYL precision crop production services

What are they? – Advanced maps and data services from the leading precision crop production service provider in the UK.

When Simon Beddows of Coppid Farm Enterprises in Dunston took over management, he knew field variability was an issue. He suspected soils to be the culprit but was unsure of how variable the soils were and the exact impact this was having on field performance.

To ensure revenue and margins were to improve, he sought help from SOYL and the results were an ‘eye-opener’.

CLAAS Yield Mapping revealed significant differences, with better ground producing double that of poorer parts. Numerous soil samples were then gathered from across the field and farm, revealing 14 different soil types, from heavy clay to Thames grave.

Mapping fields, creating soil zones and precision agronomy is lifting farm performance. Variable rate seed and fertiliser alone has seen field yield averages rise by 0.2-0.75 t/ ha, depending on the field and season. It might sound small, but with diagnostic costs typically equating to 0.1 t/ha he doesn’t need a significant response to be ‘in the black’.

Electrical Conductivity Soil Scanning revealed field indices ranging from 1 to 4, which gave Simon more refined data after traditional phosphate and potash sampling. From this, it helped him to refine fertiliser strategies which were being applied as a field average.

 

3. Climate FieldView

What is it? – A digital platform that allows farmers to collect field data, analyse crop performance and optimise their inputs from data maps.

For Simon, vegetative maps from Climate FieldView (combined with data from SOYL) highlighted biomass variations, allowing in-season fine tuning. He used these to tailor nitrogen rates to hit milling wheat specification and apply growth regulators variably – this alone has resulted in field improvements of 0.4 t/ha in some seasons.

Climate FieldView is also useful for understanding how parts of each field behave due to weather variability. For example, black-grass is happiest in heavier, wetter soils and will spread from there. With Climate FieldView, Simon can overlay yield data with variable rate agronomy and soil zone maps to get more insight into what is working, what isn’t and why.

Bayer’s Max Dafforn says the beauty of FieldView is the ease with which field regions can be accessed for detailed evaluation:

“Growers wanting to select a specific field area have a menu of options to choose from. This ability to easily pinpoint field regions and accurately overlay yield data against field soil zones or farm field trials hasn’t really been possible before.”

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