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A need to make the very best informed decisions – Agronomist & Arable Farmer

With the loss of BPS subsidies looming, James and Ellie Hay needed to know that they were making the best possible decisions about every aspect of their farming operations ...

John Swire takes a look…

Having returned to the farming business – Barton Place Farms near Bury St Edmunds – which is a mixture of 800 hectares of owned, rented and contract farmed land, after some time away in other careers, both James and Ellie felt it was essential to understand exactly how each part of the farm was performing – and this required as much information as possible.

“We didn’t want to know how a particular field was performing but how each part of that field was performing and to achieve this we needed a precision software system that would allow us to build up additional layers of data or information to help us make the very best informed strategic decisions,” they pointed out.

On the recommendation of their Hutchinsons agronomist, Alistair Shepherd, they trialled Omnia and felt that it was the best system to deliver what they were looking for. “We looked at other systems that just felt clunky; the Omnia interface was much more user-friendly.”

One of the first steps was to get the whole of the farm TerraMapped to provide a baseline measurement of the soils they were farming. TerraMap is Hutchinsons revolutionary soil scanning service that provides high definition mapping of all common nutrient properties, pH, soil texture, organic matter and CEC as well as elevation and plant available water. TerraMap results are then used to create maps within Omnia.

“The results of TerraMap confirmed a lot of what we already knew, but also threw up some very unexpected results,” said Mr Hay.

“Organic matter levels were much more variable than expected, as was pH. We overlaid these results with our yield maps in Omnia and the magic happened! The areas of low OM and low pH corresponded with the areas of low yields.”

“We are now in the second year of addressing some of the shortfalls in organic matter by adopting a min till approach where required, incorporating as much straw as possible, using poultry manure, and cover crops,” said Mr Shepherd.

“We created a variable rate liming plan that allowed us to correct any low pH hotspots, which meant we only used lime where needed.”

“This has led to a more variable rate approach to be adopted for P&K across the farm and last year, for nitrogen in wheat.

“We applied set rates for the first and second splits, but the third split was variably applied. We calculated rates using NDVI measurements based on biomass, and applied the nitrogen accordingly within parameters.

“Areas of lower biomass on more drought-prone soils had less nitrogen and those areas with more potential, reflected by a higher NDVI reading or biomass, had higher rates of N.”

“In this climate, we have got to optimise inputs and the technology has allowed us to do that,” added Mr Hay.

“The yield performance and cost of production tools also worked well when overlaid with the TerraMap results. Some areas, such as headlands, were consistently performing poorly and when overlaid with the TerraMap results we could see this was down to waterlogging. We hadn’t realised just how much this was impacting crop performance, which has prompted us to invest in better drainage in those problem areas.”

For the Hays, it’s all about using the right technology to farm smarter and Omnia is allowing them to do that. “We will spend where needed, and with the reassurance of the data behind us we can justify and measure whatever actions we take.”


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