A helicopter vista of South African cropping

Arthur Gray Correspondent South Africa
A helicopter vista of South African cropping

It is not every day that you come across a farmer who has his own helicopter and uses it to monitor the progress of crops during the growing season.

South African farmer Guy Holmes also uses his helicopter to travel between his fairly remote farm locations. Guy and his father, Trevor, run Inungi Farms in the Kokstad and Cedarville areas of KwaZulu-Natal, with some land in the Eastern Cape.

The arable land is mainly planted with maize, with grazing areas swapped with neighbours for extra land to give a total of 1,200ha of arable. A small area of soya beans is also grown, but this hasn’t proved to be as profitable as maize.

Credit: Richard Perks

Credit: Richard Perks

Precision farming for 10 years

Mr Holmes says they have been practicing precision farming for at least 10 years and after a visit to the Farm Progress Show in Illinois, US, in August this year, he feels Inungi is “up to speed” with the latest developments.

After a number of years with a no-till system, this has now evolved into a strip-till operation. The advantages of the change include less stress at planting time, as the fertiliser is applied before planting from bins, mounted on a Case IH Magnum 340 Rowtrac that operates an Orthman strip-tiller.

The change has also led to a move from trailed planters to a 12-row mounted unit, giving much improved manoeuvrability.

The new purpose-built planter, hitched to a Puma 210 tractor, uses John Deere 1750 carts with a precision planting 20/20 system, V-drive electric control to each row, Delta force up and down pressure and speed tubes that allow accurate planting at up to 16kph (10mph).

These are mounted on an Orthman “stack fold” tool bar at 760mm (30in) row spacing and the 20/20 system controls variable-rate planting and section control on individual rows.

Satellite imagery

The combine is equipped with sensors to measure yields and crop maps are created. Mr Holmes says he relies on an agronomist to interpret the results and prepare prescription maps.

With these and a system of hectare gridding every 3 years, he is able to compare inputs with yields. This is where the helicopter comes in, helping assess crop. This is complemented by his extensive use of satellite imagery, which he says is now clear enough to assess crop condition.

One surprising finding from the observations is that the cost of certain interventions, such as a recent fungicide application, is not always cost-effective. This means savings are possible by using a Case IH Patriot FCX self-propelled sprayer, which is fully equipped for variable-rate application and section control.