Smart farmers

Background

Succesful first year for NPPL precision ag project

The first year of the NPPL precision ag project in the Netherlands showed positive results.

NPPL stands for Nationale Proeftuin Precisielandbouw. The project is initiated by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Its goal is to make agriculture more sustainable, by accelerating adoption of precision agriculture. So, precision agriculture is not the goal, but the means to an end.

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Scanning the soil with the Veris iScan. - Photo: Koos Groenewold
Scanning the soil with the Veris iScan. - Photo: Koos Groenewold

Precision agriculture techniques

The NPPL project started in 2018 with 6 Dutch arable farmers applying precision agriculture techniques on their farms. They receive technical support from numerous independent experts and knowledge institutes, such as Wageningen University & Research.

What happens at the farms is being meticulousy monitored, in order to gain insight into how new technology can be applied in day to day operations on arable farms, what needs to be improved and how precision agriculture can improve sustainability and yields.

Also read: Dutch precision farming project NPPL kicks off

Recently, the results of the first year of NPPL were discussed with the 6 arable farmers who took part in the project. The overall conclusion is that all participants see the value and opportunities of precision agriculture; they want to continue using precision ag technologies.

Technical hurdles

But it also became apparant that there is still plenty to improve. Many technical hurdles had to be overcome during the first year. Also, because 2018 was an exceptionally dry year, farmers were unable to make a link between the precision ag technologies they applied and yield increase.

What could be measured, was a decrease in the use of agents. On average 23% less was used. The decrease in usage of agents by the various farmers varied from as low as 10% to as high as 80%. When it comes to nitrogen, 1 farmer used 10% less.

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Implementing data in the tractor's system. Farmers underline the need for better plug and play systems and the importance of quality when it comes to data. - Photo: Peter Roek
Implementing data in the tractor's system. Farmers underline the need for better plug and play systems and the importance of quality when it comes to data. - Photo: Peter Roek

Costs of drone imagery

In terms of money, the results were slightly positive to nil, depending on the situation. For instance, in some cases the savings in agent did not weigh up to the costs of getting drone imagery made. When satellite imagery was used, there was indeed a positive financial result.

The participating farmers however did point out that using satellite imagery required extra investments in terms of time, which can not be compensated.

They all underline the importance of quality when it comes to data, plus the need for independent and validated decision rules and better plug and play systems. In many cases, those are not yet available, according to the farmers.

Sharing data

Another thing that became apparent during the project is that in order to get the most out of precision agriculture a sound cooperation between farmers and the various suppliers and developers is necessary. Also, the importance of sharing data and advice in an efficient way was underlined. Wageningen University & Research aims to program precision ag related knowledge into web services, in order for these services to send information to all kinds of data platforms.

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The results of soil scans being evaluated with the help of experts.  - Photo: Jan Willem Schouten
The results of soil scans being evaluated with the help of experts. - Photo: Jan Willem Schouten

Weed detection

In 2019 10 new farmers will participate in the NPPL project. 3 new sectors will join the project: dairy, bulbs and open ground. The participants from 2018 will continue with the project. There are 6 new applications: precision fertilisation, weed detection, matching water applications to crop requirements, variable dosage of fungicides, protecting bird nests and planning of paths.

Where in 2018 the emphasis was on variable dosage of soil herbicides, this year farmers will focus more on weed detection, for spot spraying. Weed elimination is big, since there is much concern about agents becoming less available.

Also read: New NPPL farmers role models for precision farming

Corné Kempenaar

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