The warm spring weather has seen drills out in force around the country, with an increasing number of farmers adopting precision drilling techniques. But for those with a range of different equipment brands it can be hard to marry up the software, so how can producers make the most of precision farming with minimal outlay?
The answer, according to Lee Clarke at Trimble Agriculture, is to opt for third-party hardware that works seamlessly with all machinery brands. “Our systems can be fitted to any tractor or machine – we are brand agnostic, so you can just take the screen out of one tractor and put it into another. And for those who are new to precision technology, the GFX screen is very user-friendly and easy to use.”
Farmers can work with their agronomist to produce variable rate maps, whether they use Gatekeeper, Muddy Boots or Pear Agri software, and then transfer the data to the Trimble screen ready to use. “Then once you’re finished you get a report back to show what’s been done.”
The whole of precision agriculture starts with drilling, and using variable seed rates ensures the right quantity of seeds is delivered in the right place. “Having section control makes a big difference, especially with sugar beet and maize,” says Mr Clarke. “When you get to the headland the drill shuts off so you don’t get overlapping. Seed delivery also adjusts for your forward speed, and with autosteer you can make big savings – putting tramlines in the right place, which then helps with fertiliser and spray placement. One customer is getting an extra bed of potatoes in each field by using precision technology.”
When accounting for seed, labour, fuel, spray and fertiliser, adopting precision techniques can save around 10% in costs, while also boosting yields and quality, he adds. “But you will want to make use of your precision investment throughout the year, from drilling to spraying and harvesting. You may have a John Deere tractor, an Amazone sprayer and a Fendt combine, none of which have compatible software. By using a Trimble display you can just put a wiring kit in each, and move the display from one to another quickly and easily.
“We also have an extensive Vantage dealer network throughout the UK, which is a one-stop shop for precision hardware, software and support. With in-house agronomic experts, we can help you to get the most of the technology, whatever your level of knowledge.”
One business which is a keen embracer of precision technology is McGregor Farms, near Coldstream in the Scottish Borders. Managing 3,500ha, they now apply variable rate fertiliser, agrochemicals and seed and have recently started working with Trimble to standardise the technology.
Growing wheat, barley, oilseed rape, vining peas, beans and potatoes, Colin McGregor’s precision farming journey began back in 1996. “It’s been an on-going journey since then, adopting various technology as it became commercially available,” he explains.
The first practice the farm adopted was yield mapping. “This technology was the first available and allowed us to build up a database of yield maps over the years.” The business has used steering systems for its machinery for the past 16 years and has used variable application techniques for phosphate, potash and lime since the late ‘90s. Then 10 years ago, Mr McGregor also started variably applying nitrogen and six years ago he moved onto seed.
Even so, precision farming can be quite frustrating at times. “There’s a lot of work behind the scenes, putting together variable rate plans and getting machines to speak to one another, but once those hurdles are overcome, it’s fairly seamless.” In the past five years this has become easier as machine connectivity has improved, and the cloud has become widely accessible. “Now it’s so easy to transfer data between machines and back to the office.”
Secretary Sarah Carr deals with importing and exporting the variable rate maps, which are created in Gatekeeper and then sent to the tractors via the Trimble screens. “We started precision farming with Trimble last year, and haven’t had a full cropping season yet, but there are massive plus points,” she says. “We have John Deere and Case tractors, Vaderstad and Claydon drills, two Agrifac sprayers and three Claas combines. We have a Trimble TMX-2050 display on all the tractors and it works very well across every brand of equipment.”
When it comes to savings, Mr McGregor cut lime costs by 50% through variable rate applications, with phosphate and potash down by 33%. “Nitrogen and seed rates have remained similar but are now targeted within field areas. Our trend yields are increasing, undoubtedly due to the technology we are using together with variety, fungicide and farming system improvements.”