Precision farming was a relatively new phrase in agriculture ten years ago but a decade on the number of arable farms now geared up with the likes of N Sensors and RTK autosteer in Yorkshire has grown massively.
The major players in the tractor market all now provide models that include these and East Riding farmer-cum-technology expert Andrew Manfield of Hessleskew Farm near Sancton, East Yorkshire, tells of the sector’s blossoming.
“In 2005, GPS satellite technology was available but had only been taken up by a limited few whereas today it is commonplace. Although there are still many farms that haven’t adopted it there are very few large farms that are not using it in some degree.
“Many larger farms would now expect their main farm equipment they are seeding, planting and harvesting with to have some form of satellite guidance and with accuracy down to less than an inch.
“There is no doubt that RTK autosteer has been a major development. A lot of the benefits are not intangible but are not immediately obvious on the bottom line. Autosteer points the tractor in the right direction, it finds the right line, maintains a straight line and ensures every line matches up. That means the operator can focus on the task in hand whether seeding or handling any other process without having to concentrate on the straight line. This inevitably means that the driver can work longer hours while maintaining the same quality of work and there is less wastage of inputs.”
The N Sensor has become a much more developed piece of kit too.
“It scans the crop and gives feedback on how much biomass there is in the crop and how it is thriving,” says Andrew.
“It tells how much nitrogen it has and in doing so, tells us how much is needed to be applied. When it was first on the market a decade and a bit ago it was giving calculations based upon a 20 metre square area, that’s now getting down to a metre square.”
Andrew has his own company Manterra that specialises in precision farming research, equipment and supplying non-powered implements. His most recent project involves another new piece of precision farming kit.
“We’re currently using what is called a photo spectrometer. It is mounted on the back of what is effectively a subsoiler leg and is pulled through the soil working at a depth of a few inches. It scans the soil, analysing metre by metre and inputs data into the computer. It’s doing some very clever stuff and when combined with the N Sensor it is providing the farmer with the next phase of really high resolution data that will allow for far more economical use of fertilisers and fungicide. I’m a firm believer that the big payback from precision farming is still to come and I’m not alone.”
So who are the big hitters in the agricultural machinery navigation system world? Who are the farming equivalent of Apple and Google?
“Trimble Navigation and John Deere lead the way with Topcon and Agleader occupying a similar market position to Blackberry and Windows. Our company Manterra is a Trimble distributor.”
All the technological advances of the past ten years have developed the sector from a spotty teenager to a young adult.
“The major tractor manufacturers now employ factory fitment of an autosteer system to their appropriate models or at very least provide a tractor that has the main hydraulic components required with the wiring fitted. The big manufacturers recognise this as being essential in today’s expanding precision farming market.
“Satellite technology, autosteer, increased definition and accuracy over soil type and what amounts should be applied will continue to be adopted by increasing numbers of farmers in this next decade.
“The livestock sector has just started taking an interest too and I’m giving a talk later this month to a group that are clearly looking at its potential benefits on grassland.”