UK growers are said to be adopting digital farm systems at a rapid rate, attracted by the greater efficiency and more precise nutrient management that they provide. As fertiliser prices escalate and new environmental regulations roll out, that proposition becomes even more appealing.
Scott Millar, account manager at Farmplan, the UK’s leading agricultural software specialists, explains how smart tools can help growers get the most from their data – something that will not only help mitigate soaring fertiliser costs but remain resilient and ready in an industry that is placing increasing importance on demonstrating compliance and sustainability.
“The more historical data you have in your system – and the more accurate it is – the more you can achieve,” said Mr Millar. “One area where we often see a gap is yield data. As a result, it can become difficult for your Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) to truly anticipate what your crops need.”
As he explained, this is important for two reasons. Currently, fertiliser prices are exceedingly high. Even minor inefficiencies will quickly stack up and create a significant financial drain. The other reason is that growers are increasingly being asked to not only make positive environmental changes on their farm but demonstrate those changes in action.
“Thoroughness is absolutely key,” Mr Millar said. “Making sure your NMP is grounded in comprehensive and accurate historical data helps you make sure you’re making the most of your fertiliser investment.”
Smart data tools allow growers to be more granular and targeted in their work. This can scale according to individual preference; for those who want to take a basic approach and use spatial data to plan applications, that’s possible. For those who want to go further and look at yield maps, they can drill down further into highly specific areas on their farm.
“You can take your unique circumstances into account,” he said. “Smart devices are on the rise and advanced software can turn that collected information into tangible value. With our software, Gatekeeper, you can set variable rate plans and send those out to your spreader. If you need to tweak things on the day, you can.
“You can also bring back the “as applied” data afterwards and automatically update all your records – if you’ve used less fertiliser than expected your stock balance and rates are adjusted, as an example. Then you’ve got some extra N in the bank for later in the season.”
Growers can pull down industry-standard analysis from RB209 or, if they have their own products tested, can utilise that information to determine the most profitable and effective route forward. Despite the uptake in data tools and digital technology, many in the industry neglect their yield monitoring and recording. This, Scott explains, can be a costly mistake:
“How do you know what you did last year was right if you can’t see it? Yield data is so important. Even if you’ve got a broad overview, there are always variables. Having that data and analysing it is the best way to understand where you are and how to get where you want to go.”
Mr Millar offered an interesting scenario in which one grower gained an unexpected benefit after they embraced smart data solutions on their farm. After determining that one area on the farm was far less productive than others, he chose to dig a pond in that location. This not only helped those other areas perform even better due to increased drainage but also promoted wildlife and avoided wasting resources where they wouldn’t see a return.
“People who use data properly get such huge benefits from it,” he added. “Even marginal gains are significant when spread across the farm. You can precisely calculate the cost/reward with every application of fertiliser, all while ensuring you’re meeting environmental requirements. Smart data software can make a great difference when prices are high – like they are now – but also promote a more efficient and sustainable practice that will be vital for the years to come.”