Smart farmers

Background last update:7 Oct 2019

‘Precision farming helps society accept farming’

Manfred Hurtz is one of the farmers nominated for the 10 most innovative arable farmers worldwide. He started in precision farming with a camera-fitted prototype sprayer to apply 3 different types of herbicides.

Manfred Hurtz’ farm in located in Nideggen, Germany, close to the nature park Eifel in the Mid-west of the country. In German terms, Manfred’s 100ha farm is relatively small. He also does contract work on about 100 hectares and combines about 350 hectares of cereals and oil seed rape.

Despite growing up on a family farm, he started off his career as a tool maker and studied from 1995 to 1998 to become a farmer whilst serving in the army. Then in 1998 he started farming.

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Manfred Hurtz is one of the farmers nominated for the 10 most innovative arable farmers worldwide. He showed Future Farming how he uses precision farming technology to increase efficiency and decrease the impact his farm has on the environment.- Photos: Bas van Hattum
Manfred Hurtz is one of the farmers nominated for the 10 most innovative arable farmers worldwide. He showed Future Farming how he uses precision farming technology to increase efficiency and decrease the impact his farm has on the environment.- Photos: Bas van Hattum

Sprayer prototype

In 2003 he was approached by the University of Bonn to take part in a malting barley project. The project was aimed at detecting weeds with one single camera and then spray the weeds individually with 3 different tank mixes or a combination of them.

The sprayer was built by Rau, which was very innovative, yet complex,” says Mr Hurtz. “It had 3 different tanks and 3 different spray lines. I liked the technology, but my main objection to online systems – detect and spray in the same go – is that you can never determine in advance how much spraying liquid you need to mix and that I always had residue of 3 different tank mixes.”

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The precision farming adventure started with a sprayer prototype in 2003 and since then Manfred Hurtz has been using preproduction machines from Kverneland Group.
The precision farming adventure started with a sprayer prototype in 2003 and since then Manfred Hurtz has been using preproduction machines from Kverneland Group.

Kverneland Group

This was one of the early precision farming lessons learned and since then, he’s never become a big fan of online measuring and direct application of inputs. It however put him in the spotlight for the Kverneland Group as a dedicated test and development partner. It was this project that initiated the kick-off of his involvement and dedication to precision farming technology. The project lasted for another couple of years and eventually, the knowhow was sold to German company Agricon.

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  • Manfred Hurtz stopped ploughing a long time ago and currently uses a cultivator and an Amazone disc harrow for soil preparation.

    Manfred Hurtz stopped ploughing a long time ago and currently uses a cultivator and an Amazone disc harrow for soil preparation.

  • Manfred still likes to use skills learned while studying to be a tool maker to adapt machines like with these additional side discs.

    Manfred still likes to use skills learned while studying to be a tool maker to adapt machines like with these additional side discs.

Yet another online system

Manfred’s next steps in precision farming included a combine yield mapping system in 2005, a VRA mulch / low till seeder in 2006, a VRA Kverneland weigh-cell spreader in 2007 and a Yara N-sensor in 2008 (together with his neighbouring farmer). “My main motivations to use precision technology and tools are to:

  1. Limit and possibly lower the environmental impact of farming
  2. Decrease the amount of inputs used
  3. Protect the drinking water sourcing around my farm

Apart from these ‘business motivations’, I believe that precision farming can help society and neighbouring citizens to understand and accept farmers and farming. It’s the tools that help us produce good quality and sufficient food with minimum impact on the environment.”

N-sensor

It was these motivations that led to the purchase of the N-sensor (and a VRA capable fertiliser spreader and sprayer, in 2011). Because of the varying soil types and conditions on his farm, this crop sensor helped him save about 30kg of pure nitrogen (N) fertilisers. He actually managed to lower his N-balance surplus from around +70 to -15. His yields stayed about the same: oil seed rape 4.5 – 5.5 t/ha, winter barley 7.6 – 10 t/ha and winter wheat 8.5 – 10.5 t/ha.

More uniform crops

“It also helped me with VRA grow-stop regulators in cereals and in combination with VRA fertilising, it led to more uniform crops, both quality wise and quantity wise. The result of more uniform (ripening) cereals is easier combine harvesting and less costs of post-harvest treatments like drying.”

Manfred Hurtz:

I’ve learned that using an autopilot, especially on fallow ground, helps me save time, money and inputs

It brought him several medals for the best quality malting barley in his area and state. His experience with the N-sensor and his affinity with electronics still come in handy. Not only at his own farm, but also in helping out other N-sensor users in Germany and neighbouring country Luxemburg.

How autopilots help saving the environment

In 2010, Manfred bought a Trimble autopilot with RTK-precision to guide his Claas Lexion 540 combine and his 2 Fendt tractors. “I’ve learned that using an autopilot, especially on fallow ground, helps me save time, money and inputs. The technology helps prevent unwanted overlap and it initially saved me 1 pass / track per field. Because, without autopilot and GPS section control, you want to be sure and always have more overlap between tracks than necessary.”

“Besides, on headlands you always switch on the sprayer too early and off too late. Eliminating that extra unnecessary pass and overlap saves time, fuel, fertiliser and chemicals and lowers my CO2-footprint and environmental impact.”

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This mulch / low till seeder bought in 2006 was equipped with sensors after parts of a baler belt clogged up the hoses.
This mulch / low till seeder bought in 2006 was equipped with sensors after parts of a baler belt clogged up the hoses.

540 litres crop protection liquid saved

When his neighbour said that he always fell 500 litres short of crop protection liquid when spraying a field, Mr Hurtz told him that he could have sufficient when using autopilot. “So, one day, I sprayed his field with my sprayer. He got very nervous on headlands when the sprayer did not switch on or off at the point he would manually. We ended up having a surplus of 40 litres on the same field where he always fell 500 litres short. The 540 litres were saved by the autopilot and section GPS control.”

Shifting towards satellite imagery

His opposition to online technology, measuring and applying fertiliser / chemicals in the same pass, has recently led to preferring satellite imagery above crop sensors. “I’m currently in a project together with Kleffmann Group and Kverneland Group to use biomass satellite imagery for fertilising and grow stop regulation. The idea is that I can get accurate satellite images every 3 days from the new Sentinel satellites. The My Data Plant software then automatically creates application maps based on a few personal settings and I easily export these to a USB-stick for use with spreader and sprayer.”

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  • Manfred recently started using the Kleffmann My Data Plant program to create fertiliser application maps from satellite imagery.

    Manfred recently started using the Kleffmann My Data Plant program to create fertiliser application maps from satellite imagery.

  • In the My Data Plant software, fertiliser application maps are made quickly and easily based on a few personal settings and preferences and recent biomass satellite images.

    In the My Data Plant software, fertiliser application maps are made quickly and easily based on a few personal settings and preferences and recent biomass satellite images.

“The biggest advantage is that I know exactly in advance how much fertiliser or spraying liquid I should bring. Besides, it requires no initial investment and just € 6 to € 10 per hectare per year. And I can decide to stop using it whenever I want.”

Working widths increased from 9 to 33 metres

Manfred has seen his working widths increase from 9 to 33 metres over the years and now he notices a downward tendency again. “I now use 27 metres working widths, but the technology moves forward and my spreader can already apply in 48 sections and my current sprayer has 15 sections.”

He currently is anticipating the arrival of a new sprayer with single nozzle control and a spreader with left and right disc VRA possibility. “This will further enhance the saving of the environment and on inputs.”

Politics and society

Being politically active, Mr Hurtz feels that (EU) politicians tend to prioritise the interests of citizens despite the fact that they might have their facts wrong. “I think we need (more) independent scientific research focussed on nutrition. I also feel that bans on chemicals like glyphosate and neonics should depend on the situation. In low and no till farming for instance, glyphosate is necessary to farm efficiently, or even necessary to farm at all. Did you know that washing detergents leak more phosphonates into the environment than glyphosate does? I believe that precision farming technology offers the possibilities to exactly adjust the number of inputs to the amount needed by the crops.”

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Manfred Hurtz: I believe that precision farming can help society and neighbouring citizens to understand and accept farmers and farming. It’s the tools that help us produce good quality and sufficient food with minimum impact on the environment.”
Manfred Hurtz: I believe that precision farming can help society and neighbouring citizens to understand and accept farmers and farming. It’s the tools that help us produce good quality and sufficient food with minimum impact on the environment.”

Manfred Hurtz, Utenwinkler Hof, Nideggen, Germany, 100 ha

Manfred Hurtz (55) farms 100ha and grows 30ha of barley, 30ha of winter wheat, 30ha of oil seed rape and 10ha of maize. Besides he grows 15ha of Christmas trees. “Because my family and I can’t live from arable farming alone.” He started with precision farming technology in 2003 and learned that online sensor technology is not his preferred way of working. His main tip for farmers starting with or already active with precision farming is to take small steps. Right now, he would advise the use of biomass maps from satellite imagery.

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