Case study 1: Pea yield and wildlife benefits
At Cold Harbour Farm in Bishop Burton near Beverley, Humberside, there has been a determined effort to make the best use of everything that precision farming technology has to offer.
A Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) demonstration farm, the 532ha (215-acre) beef and arable business is run as a family partnership, with grower Paul Hayward being enthusiastic about how precision farming has helped them to raise production and management standards, especially with niche crops.
“The technology has to deliver something in order to earn its keep, as it isn’t cheap,” he says. “Fortunately, we have seen savings and greater efficiencies since we embarked on this journey, and we expect that to continue.”
He grows winter wheat, vining peas, oilseed rape, barley and spring beans across 472ha (190 acres), with a further 60ha (24 acres) of grass used for a 140-head beef enterprise.
Investment in data tools has a price tag
Investment in real time kinematic (RTK) guidance, satellite controlled sprayer and spreader, soil mapping, variable rate nitrogen, yield mapping and grain dryer control has taken place over the years, all of which came with a price tag, he acknowledges.
“As a team, we are all committed to it. Our vining peas are grown for Birds Eye, as part of a co-operative, so we’ve made particularly good use of what precision farming can do to produce that crop to the required standards.”
Mr Hayward reports increases in yield and margins, as well as input savings, across the board. “We’ve been able to target our inputs better and get the most from them.”
Advantages of auto-steer
Waste has been minimised, as has run-off, while environmental benefits have also been recorded, thanks to improved accuracy and better timeliness.
- Improves workrates
“Investing in autosteer means that we’ve seen our workrates improve, as well as our fuel efficiency, as we have eliminated overlaps,” he adds.
He also believes they have been able to make more informed decisions, thanks to the detailed information they have been getting back from the tractor cab.
- Health & safety benefits
“There’s been a health and safety benefit, too. Our workforce is less tired, so we are all less liable to make mistakes. That has to be a good thing.”
In the field, he has been able to make use of precision drilling with his vining pea crop, which has been invaluable in the recent dry spring.
“They were placed at the right depth for moisture, so we got rapid, even establishment. It means we will also get even maturity and maximum yield.”
- Reduces number of harvesters needed
Autosteer has enabled the number of vining pea harvesters in the co-operative to be reduced from 15 to 14, as they can now operate 12-hour on/off shifts and maintain their busy schedule.
Looking ahead, Mr Hayward can see the need for more expertise to interpret the data that is being produced, as well as a requirement for real-time information.
“I could make better decisions on grain marketing and crop harvesting if I received vital information without any time lag,” he points out.
He would also like to see predictive techniques based on aerial surveys, as well as the use of smaller machines to prevent damage to soil structure.