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Helix Live: Turning data into profit

Hutchinsons hosted a Helix Live webinar in November to share the outcomes from the Helix Project over the last year ...

“Increasingly growers are under pressure to make more informed and justified decisions surrounding their farm management practices – and ultimately more informed decision making leads to increased profitability,” says Stuart Hill, Head of Innovation and Technology for Hutchinsons.

“In order to make these decisions, it is crucial to have access to the right data. However it is critical that this data is interpreted between both grower and agronomist.”

“So how is this data collected? he asks.

“Technologies produce the data and this is the very premise of the Helix concept, he points out.

Technologies that produce data are developed, tested and validated across seven Helix farms on a field-scale basis, with the aim to produce the best solutions on issues such as soil health, farm diversity and carbon to improve farm economic and environmental sustainability.

“The most recent Helix outcomes to help growers with these aims include the Omnia Climate module – this drives modelling to look at risk linked to weather i.e. disease, BYDV and lodging. Crop growth modelling is also linked to the climate module by improving the prediction of key growth stage timings,” he says.

“One big area of interest is carbon and we are often asked why managing carbon makes good business sense,” says Matt Ward, Head of Services for Hutchinsons.

“Costs of production and levels of carbon in the soil are closely linked. Where input costs are efficient and output high, carbon levels reflect this and vice versa –so managing carbon is good business sense.”

TerraMap carbon is the UK’s only carbon mapping service that produces maps of active and inactive carbon that can be used within Omnia to calculate the cost of production for a crop both financially (£/t & £/ha) and in terms CO2e (CO2e/ha & CO2e/t). This is called the Production Module.”

“The work doesn’t stop here, later this year, we are looking at launching a Strategic Farm Planning Tool that combines rotational planning tools, carbon accounting and cost of production and analysis tools to visualise what effect they will have on overall farm profitability,” adds Dave Howard, ICM lead at Hutchinsons.

“This is achieved through looking at optimised inputs to crop potential, cost savings, reduced risk, sustainability and managing carbon,” he says.

We are also developing a Yield Prediction tool to help quantify crop potential to help manage inputs accordingly. “Currently it is only possible to predict yield about 30-60 days pre-harvest which is useful information – but does not help with the management of the crop.”

“However, modelling within Omnia is being developed for the future to allow for much more accurate prediction of a quantifiable yield – allowing inputs to be matched accordingly – to within a 10% accuracy level.”

Hutchinsons Helix North project is based at Hundayfield Farm, just outside York, by kind permission of Nick and Liz Wilson. The farm is in a nine year rotation that includes livestock and grass leys.

TerraMap has been used to measure carbon across the farm. “This has shown differences in carbon levels between arable and grass; levels of carbon in the grass ley being almost double that of the grass leys,” explains Mr Wilson.

“With a baseline measurement it is now possible to look at how to use FYM or cover crops on the poorer areas to improve active carbon measurements.”

“We are also looking at how to establish fodder beet after cover crops without ploughing to prevent carbon loss as well as overall effects on soil fertility.”

Helix East Farm is hosted by Tom Jewers, of GD Jewers & Son in Rattlesden, Suffolk. Mr Jewers has had all his fields mapped using TerraMap for nutrients and carbon, which has raised some interesting questions.

“We have found that despite high soil reserves of potassium, these levels are not being matched in tissue testing. Using mapping results from TerraMap for pH and Calcium it is possible to link this to some form of lock-up and is an area that we are investigating further.”

A big question for us looking ahead is where to use our nitrogen? How can data help us to guide us? says Mr Jewers.

“Historic yield data does not capture seasonality of yields and would be an inaccurate approach. It will be much better to use yield expectation maps and NDVI biomass maps in Omnia to highlight best performing parts of the field, so we know that we are placing the nitrogen where we will get the most benefit.”

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