Dutch precision farming project NPPL kicks off

Leo Tholhuijsen Arable writer
Dutch precision farming project NPPL kicks off

In my previous blog I wrote about the project NPPL, that stands for Nationale Proeftuin Precisielandbouw (translated into English: the National Experimental Ground for Precision Farming). The actual kick off was in week 11.

With the help of experts of Wageningen University & Research, 6 arable farmers will start with the site-specific control of weeds:

  • using granulate against nematodes
  • applying lime
  • over-fertilising nitrogen in potatoes
  • the variable dosage of fungicides
  • haulm stripping agents in potatoes, depending on the vegetation index
  • variable planting distance for potatoes, based on soil’s lutum level.

This is an automated process, based on soil and vegetation scans, executed by sprayers and spreaders that can vary, based on job cards.

Making soil scans

With the sowing and planting season fast approaching, the farmers are pressing ahead with making soil scans and based on those, job cards. The technique to do so exists, as do the programmes and the calculation rules, the algorithms.

The experience of 1 participant

I was recently a guest at one of the participants’ farm, together with a Wageningen expert. This participant was lucky enough to have made the soil scans last year. He was busy making the job card to apply variable soil herbicides to sugar beets at the beginning of April. Easier said than done. Today was a striking example of 1 of the reasons why precision farming fails to break through. For the relative layman, which the average grower is in the area of precision farming, it is hard to make a job card based on a scan. It is all a lot less obvious and intuitive than we are used to nowadays, thanks to our smartphones.

Photo: Jan Willem Schouten

Photo: Jan Willem Schouten

Not all went to plan

Anyway, there is a job card to vary the dosage based on the amount of organic matter in the sandy soil. By now, it is also clear that the card can be uploaded in the modern field sprayer, which the grower will probably obtain this season. Once again: all of this did not go very smoothly and a dealership specialist was needed to upload the card.

Having the right scans and equipment isn’t enough

The NPPL-project exists to solve these kinds of bumps. Growers cannot solve them behind their computers at home, without specialist help. The consequence: even though a grower may have the right scans, programmes and equipment for variable site-specific dosage, he might not use them if things do not go according to plan immediately, due to spring stress. He will then say: “I will try again next year,” and sets out in the exact way he was used to.

Sprayer suppliers jump on the publicity bandwagon

In the meantime, suppliers of sprayers have discovered the NPPL-participants and the additional publicity. For the project, the growers need machines that can vary dosage per cap or at least per section. The suppliers have found out that many Dutch growers watch the project and want to take this opportunity to put a demonstration machine in the spotlight.

Jury is out on which machines to use

There are plenty of conversations about which machine can be used under which conditions. In the next few weeks it will be clear what the results of these negotiations will be. The growing season will also start and we will see what precision application of pesticides can do under Dutch circumstances.

Follow the project (in Dutch) at www.proeftuinprecisielandbouw.nl