Tools & data

Background

How new software will help farmers tackle unprofitable fields

Farmers looking to take the next step, such as using drones to generate variable rate maps or identify high cost areas of fields, will find it easier with the launch of new software tools.

3 new agronomy tools are set to help farmers fine tune their decision-making according to crop or site potential, helping to push yields further as well as make savings.

Omnia Precision Agronomy

The 3 modules have been added to the Omnia Precision Agronomy service from Hutchinsons, a web-based service that has been up and running on around 500 farms for just over a year.

As well as the cost of production module that was unveiled in June, the Omnia service now has a drone image converter, which allows aerial pictures taken by drones to be uploaded and used to guide variable rate treatment plans and maps.

It can also produce colour-coded field performance and yield potential maps, in a simplified form, so that input strategies can be tailored and adjusted accordingly.

From these, any inconsistent field areas over a number of seasons can be highlighted, allowing the causes to be investigated and different management plans discussed.

Farming to potential

“These new tools are a step forward and a logical progression with precision farming,” says Oliver Wood of Hutchinsons. “They mark a shift from using technology to even crops up, to allowing growers to farm different areas and fields to their potential.

“So pushing some areas, or holding back on others, is possible, as is easily identifying any loss-making or problematic parts of the farm.”

The system’s multi-layered approach means that growers and agronomists can hold and interrogate all their farm and field information on 1 platform, allowing them to make good use of data that many have been collecting over a number of years.

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Oliver Wood.

“Omnia provides the link between farm data with agronomy, so that there is an easy, quick way to start making informed decisions based on what you’ve already measured or recorded,” he says.

“It has been designed in such a way that the user can incorporate his farm data from a number of sources, with each one becoming a layer in the integrated system.”

Yield maps and costings

Yield maps, says Mr Wood, are a good example: “They hold a wealth of information, but it is very difficult to make good use of it. The Omnia system lets the user replace some of the numbers behind them with terms, such as good, acceptable and poor, to make them meaningful.”

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A cost of production map for a crop of spring barley, showing how costs can vary widely for different parts of the field.

Bringing in a costs of production module has been very well received by users of the system, adds Mr Wood, as it is helping them to make some tough decisions and prepare for an uncertain future.

“We have put some standard figures into the system for variable costs and operations, but they can be altered if the user knows his own costs. It quickly flags up where any losses are being made or if costs are slipping out of control.”

Drone imagery

Having drone imagery in the system is assisting with weed control decisions and variable rate spraying opportunities, he says.

“It’s easy to produce a weed pressure map, showing where the highest pressure is likely to be. This means you can then make management decisions about drilling date and seed rates, as well as looking at variable herbicide applications.

Drone
Photo credit: Gary Naylor

“A high risk area might need a higher 360g/ha rate of flufenacet, for example, rather than the 240g/ha rate that the rest of the field is going to receive. That difference is worth £20/ha (€22.49).”

Drone images can be particularly useful with maize crops, as well as for identifying potato cyst nematode hotpots in potato fields, he adds.

The Omnia Precision Agronomy Service is still charged at a rate of £5/ha/year (€5.62), with a minimum cost of £500 (€562), so there is no additional expense as growers expand their use of the system.

Case Study

Alex Richardson, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire

Hutchinsons agronomist Alex Richardson is using the Omnia service on his own family farm in Lincolnshire, as well as with his farmer clients across south Lincolnshire and north Cambridgeshire.

Having seen big costs savings from its first year of use with variable P and K applications on his home farm – enough to pay for a new Amazone spreader in just 1 year – Mr Richardson believes it has a valuable role for targeting inputs.

“Even if you aren’t completely convinced about precision technology, you can use Omnia to farm parts of fields, rather than treating it all as a whole,” he says.

“Where hedges have been taken out and fields amalgamated into 1, you can farm as though they were still there.” He has customers who want to split fields, as well as those who are looking to variable apply inputs.

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Alex Richardson.

Some will be operating the Omnia service for themselves, others are happier for Mr Richardson to perform that role.
“The more you put in, the more you get out,” Mr Richardson emphasises. “But the beauty of it is that you can use as many or as few layers of information as you want.”

Mr Richardson's own family farm had already had soil zoning carried out, so that information was transferred into Omnia. He has since added weed maps and slug pressure maps, to help with decision-making, and is hoping that variable rate liming will be the next step.

“I’m also looking to introduce variable rate herbicides,” he reveals. “The potential on our farm is to variably apply the top-up treatments, rather than the base programme. We have got some serious blackgrass in places.” He has also experimented with drone imagery and can see the potential for using it on a regular basis.

Costs of production maps are also very revealing and make for some good family discussions, he confirms. “Like all arable farms in the region, we are working on bringing these down.”