Recently the Sturm family hosted an open day at their farm in the Dutch Noordoostpolder. Sturm participates in The Dutch National Experimental Ground for Precision Farming (NPPL) project. He concludes that the real profit from variable dosage spraying is not in cutting cost of herbicides, but in less damage to the crop.
In the NPPL project, six selected arable farmers take steps in the field of precision farming, supported by Wageningen University & Research. The project is supported financially by the Dutch government, or more precisely, by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
The government wants farmers to use less fertilizer and pesticides, for the sake of the environment and food safety. At the open day, the question arose why farmers do not embrace the new, ready to use, high-tech farming methods more. Surely these can cut costs and increase yields. The money would be there for the taking.
At the Open Day, Max Sturm enlightened the visitors. He did take steps forward and really thinks he needs precision farming to make his company future proof, both ecologically and economically. He did however make it clear that precision farming does not pay off directly.
It also became clear that the total amount of herbicides can definitely decrease, due to the variable dosage of soil herbicides based on a soil scan and – in the case of killing potato shoots – variable dosage based on the satellite-specified mass of the foliage. The profits of this however, do not amount to several dozens of euro’s per hectare.
This is not a lot, certainly not when you compare it to the costs of scans and consultants’ fees. What Max Sturm means: all that glitters is not gold. This was an important take away for the government officials present on that day.
Meanwhile, Sturm and other NPPL participants did make progress thanks to the project. In general, the actual implementation of new precision techniques is often delayed due to connectivity problems, small or big. Wrong cable, an insufficient license, programmes that cannot communicate, those kinds of things.
This first year of NPPL, Sturm noticed that suppliers and consultants work just a little bit harder now that Wageningen, the Agricultural Ministry and media (!) are all involved. Moreover, doors that would normally remain closed, now open for the NPPL participants.
This may be considered as good news for the six participants, but also for their colleagues, who closely follow their achievements. They can profit from this later.
To return to the issue of profitability of the variable dosage of soil herbicides in Sturm’s onions: this yielded a saving of only € 14 per hectare. However, this is not the most important factor for Sturm. The true gain comes from less damage in his onions, because of the smaller amount of herbicides in places with less lutum and organic material.
In the last week of August the onions in this plot were harvested and drying in the land. During the first week of September they were loaded with a machine that has just been equipped with sensors for site specific yield determination. Now, things will really get exciting. To be continued.