The ability to dig down deeper into a field’s potential performance and really understand the costs of growing a crop was the premise for one grower to introduce precision technology onto his farm.
Tom Ramsden farms over 300ha just outside Ripon in Yorkshire. Heavy soils are a main feature of Low Lindrick Farms where the rotation sees mostly winter cropping of cereals and oilseed rape broken up with some maize.
A key area of focus on the farm has always been to push yields to their full potential, but at the same time ally these yields with what they cost to produce, he says.
“We have never been able to do this on an accurate basis –historically everything has been done on a broad brush basis - but we really wanted to drill down into our costings.”
“We recognised that this approach would take us in the direction of precision farming, and despite having already invested in a new combine harvester with yield mapping capability, we were slightly hesitant as we thought that this could well involve needing to replace perfectly adequate machinery and did not want to be rushed into this - and we only had one year of data to work from.”
So along with farm manager Andrew Mason, they looked at the various precision technology systems on the market, and it was chatting these through with agronomist David Stead of Hutchinsons, that they were introduced to the Omnia Precision Agronomy system.
David works with us on a strategic level on the farm, so we felt he really understood what we were looking to achieve when he suggested trying Omnia, explains Andrew.
The Omnia Precision system allows users to analyse multiple layers of field data, including yield maps, to pin down under performing areas and also look at what these cost to produce through two unique tools, Yield performance and Cost of Production mapping.
“We decided to trial it on a couple of fields last year to see how it worked, just using the one year of yield data that we had.”
David worked up the maps of the fields and then created a map showing how different areas of the field performed, based on historical knowledge and the yield map that was available.
“Using this yield performance mapping on a 7.4 ha field of oilseed rape, we could see that whilst most of the field, 6ha, was performing consistently well, there was an area of about one hectare that was consistently poor around the headlands, and about 0.5ha on top of this that was just acceptable,” says David.
The costs of producing these yields were then analysed within Omnia. “Within the cost of production mapping it’s possible to input all costs and we included everything from seed, fertiliser and crop protection products to storage and drying costs which brought the total costs to £724/ha”
“Overall Omnia showed that it was costing us on average £192/tonne to produce.“
“However if we took out an area of 1.5ha of the worst performing OSR, we could bring down the costs of production to £164/t – that’s a difference of £28/t!"
We also took this a step on a field of KWS Santiago winter wheat: we mapped the yield performance and overlaid this with cost of production mapping, says David.
“The variation in costs of production across the field were incredible; in the poorer yielding areas where yields were down at 3.8t/ha such as on the headlands, it was costing £112/tonne to grow. However in the highest yielding areas this dropped down to £76/tonne.”
“In the main costs of production were between £80 to £84/tonne based on 11-12t/ha yields.”
“With this information in hand, it was clear that we had some thinking to do about the lower areas of production as it was not viable to keep farming them at such a high cost. We are now thinking of linking these into an environmental scheme and taking them out of cropping completely.”
“We have been impressed with Omnia to date as we have been able to make changes to what we are doing in an quick and efficient manner- - and we have not had to make a huge investment to do this,” adds Mr Ramsden.
“Using Omnia in this way allows us to make the correct long term decision on land-use based on consistency of performance over the rotation, not making knee-jerk reactions in the early years, but building up a picture over time.”
“Having this ability is a really exciting development to our farming tool box, bringing another valuable dimension to arable farming.”
According to John Pelham, Anderson’s business consultant, the ability of farm businesses to identify and address loss making areas is key to improving resilience against future threats, such as Brexit.
He believes that every grower should know where yield occurs, where the costs are and the financial consequences of management decisions. For arable producers, this could be taking an under -performing crop out of the rotation or removing low yielding parts of fields, such as outer headlands, from cropping plans, but it might also mean investing more in higher potential areas.
“However, being able to measure field performance and understand unit costs are critical; if you can’t measure something, you can’t manage it,” he says.