The Dutch National Experimental Ground for Precision Farming (NPPL) is gaining momentum. The government initiative to boost precision farming with expert support for 6 practical arable farmers is starting to bear fruit. Or rather – it is becoming clear here and there why precision farming fails to break through in to the farmer’s day to day practise.
I have already written about this NPPL project and it does not stand alone. The Southern Experimental Ground for Precision Farming has already started in the south of the Netherlands and companies and research facilities in the north have also come together to boost precision farming in this part of the country. In addition, individual suppliers are increasingly using precision farming to offer advice to their customers. Quite a lot is happening.
Praxis proven, but not practical to use
The motivation for the government’s support to the different experimental grounds was Wageningen University & Research’s analysis that commercial, ready to use applications of precision farming are already on the shelf, but arable farmers fail to use them for several reasons.
NPPL participant Daniël Cerfontaine: "Ready-to-use applications are a little bit less ready-to-use than the market says they are. Maybe ready-to-use for the companies that sell them, but not for the people that actually have to use them.” Photo: Peter Roek
In fact, the first important conclusion that the 6 NPPL participants’ have drawn is that the ready-to-use applications are a little bit less ready-to-use than the market says they are. “Maybe ready-to-use for the companies that sell them,” NPPL participant Daniël Cerfontaine says. “However, not for the people that actually have to use them.”
Compatibility of systems
Cerfontaine has been collecting yield data, mostly from grains, for several years. He does use these data, but also has to admit that much is useless. This is his problem with precision farming on his company in a nutshell. The current management systems take up too much of his time and are simply not compatible with all the other automation systems. The farmer has already spoken to different software suppliers, but none of their packages meets his needs. The package should be able to use the fertiliser’s Trimble data, the Fendt tractor’s and the Challenger self-propelled sprayer’s Agco data and the Claas combine harvester’s yield data.
This is not the only thing. When using precision farming on a field level, Cerfontaine also has to deal with various basic things. For example, when he grows different blocks of crops on one big field.
Software struggles with splitting and merging fields
Some applications such as Akkerweb, cannot handle the splitting and later merging of such a field. In addition, not selecting the proper field for a specific action or processing more than one field at a time quickly leads to a mash of data. These data need to be separated manually before they can be traced back to a specific field. This is too expensive and will simply not happen in practise. The data’s outcomes are not profitable enough for Cerfontaine to justify hiring an employee that has a fulltime job using them.
Cerfontaine’s story does not stand alone. It is also becoming clear for other companies that precision farming is not ready for ‘plug & play’. However, the good news is that it is taking root. With the help of the Wageningen University experts, obstacles are cleared and precision spraying systems are made operational. This way, the farmers can take steps towards applying precision techniques, so we can see if and how much these will help to improve yield and lower costs and environmental impact in the Dutch situation.