Project Aims to Link Technology, Knowledge and Advice

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- Farmers Guide

Farm business profitability and environmental sustainability will become increasingly critical as we move through the next decade of change and uncertainty, requiring resource and a new management approach, says agronomy firm Hutchinsons.

Stuart Hill Helix Video Image

This means that the current agronomist and grower relationship will need to evolve if these challenges are to be met over the next ten years, and utilising technology will be a significant part of this, recognises Hutchinsons head of Technology & Innovation Stuart Hill.

"We are being exposed to a plethora of technologies such as data analytics, climate, machine learning, sensors, monitoring, detection systems, autonomy and robotics.

However, there is a need to evaluate which technologies are relevant and ultimately increase productivity and profitability, as well as efficiency, both for the grower and the agronomist."

The Hutchinsons Helix project aims to do just this and is the first of its kind in the UK; Helix is a unique research project looking at how technologies can be successfully linked with knowledge to deliver a greater level of advice by agronomists to farm businesses.

Focussing on key areas of innovation and technology, the Helix project will act as a central research hub bringing together all aspects of crop production through to field data and input measurement.

From sensors and prediction software, soil management and analysis to environmental aspects such as surveillance and predictive systems, nutrition, input and new trait technologies will also be assessed and developed within the Helix project.

“Growers and agronomists want simplicity, so linking of technologies and knowledge will lead to decision making through a one hub system approach, Omnia."


Development farm

The national Helix Technology Development Farm is being hosted courtesy of Andrew and William Pitts of JW Pitts & Sons located at Whiston in Northamptonshire.

"I'm very pleased to be working alongside such a forward-thinking business as Hutchinsons. We are running over 690ha here and our aim is to be productive, efficient and ultimately profitable, otherwise we have no farm. The relationship with the agronomist in future will adapt to this and will, with the use of technologies, become more strategic and inclusive of whole farm advice," says Andrew Pitts.

"The technology revolution is here and we need to ensure these are relevant, applicable and straightforward to use for all our benefits. I see a future when we will spend much less time field walking with the technologies available and more time on strategic discussion about the farm and sustainability."

Working alongside them are Hutchinsons' agronomists James MacWilliam and Michael Shemilt. Michael is the “pilot” agronomist of the future, testing and managing technologies with the farm to understand how they will work and their value in the farm scale situation.

Work has already begun on the farm on areas such as climate and pest prediction, nutrition technology, variety trait work and environmental sustainability.

"We will aim to demonstrate these technologies by various means and not just the traditional farm open days. After all, this is about use and benefit of technologies, so technology will be used to demonstrate it,” says Mr Hill.


Key concerns

According to the company, a recent Hutchinsons' grower survey identified the key concerns for farming businesses over the next 10 years.

Conducted by Hutchinsons' agronomists, including Andrew Goodinson from Herefordshire, respondents identified that their main business challenges over the next 10 years would be profitability, agronomics, staffing and technology.

"It was certainly clear when talking to growers that they felt that they would need to develop a stable business not reliant on subsidies using existing resources, and to do this they would need to become more efficient through attention to detail," says Mr Goodinson.

They felt that future technologies such as satellite images as well as the use of diagnostic tools would become increasingly common, and that variable rate applications would become the norm. This was alongside the need to harmonise different systems to have a paperless recording base.”

"In order to do this, farmers would expect agronomists of the future to have wider access to information and solutions, become data interpreters, less field walkers and be ahead of the game in terms of skills and technology developments.”


Helix project focus

The Helix project will focus on three key project areas to start with that will align new and old technologies, evolving and developing these to improve crop management decisions.

More projects will become apparent during 2019.

Project Predict & Justify – predicting and monitoring risk analysis with regards to disease, pests crop growth, lodging risk. This will help growers to identify and understand where there is risk and to help justify farm decisions. For example, BYDV risk forecasting – making this field specific and for warnings to come before threshold levels are reached.

Project Sustainability – sustainability encapsulates a sustainable farm business. This project looks at the sustainable use of inputs and sustainable farm environment. For example, Hutchinsons is developing technology to enable mapping of pollination species in appropriate locations and timings on farm.

Project Nutrition – soil and tissue testing are challenging and time-consuming processes. The nutrition project aims to simplify decision making by enabling live analysis alongside developing knowledge.


Helix Puzzle Circle