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  1. It’s been a while since my last blog and the team has been busy! We have taken delivery of the HFH combine which is going to be a challenge to make it fully automated. However, the team are Harper are working very hard and I have full confidence in them.

    HFH Combine

    Since drilling, the crop has had its second application of Yara liquid Nitrogen and it's had a T1 fungicide plus a PGR and nutrition.  As the crop was drilled late disease levels have been fairly low. For this project it has worked rather well - maybe a little compromise in yield - but has allowed us to always be protecting the crop from disease.

    Jonathan Grill has taken some NDVI images so we’re continuing to monitor the crop in many different ways, testing all the tools we have. We do have some variation in growth stages due to the low rainfall/soil moisture levels across April. This has mainly caused issues around weed pressure as we couldn't get our pre-em herbicide treatment on.

    HFH Maps
    I have also received plant samples from the robot scout, it has driven out over the field on set points and scooped up soil and plant samples. These are then brought back to mission control for us to examine.

    For me this has been one of the most challenging parts of the project, as I get a feel of what crops are doing when I walk through a field. With our HFH crop I have studied the scout video footage very closely to determine the weed levels and disease on the crop.
    We have also used live streaming from mission control which has been very useful. This has enabled me to asked the team to pick certain plants and check specific areas for disease levels and crop growth stages.

    HFH Plants

    HFH is a really exciting project to be part of and it is causing me to have to think “outside the box” in order to build the picture of how to give our crop the best agronomic advice.

    For more information please take a look at the Website: or follow the Hands Free hectare on Twitter and Facebook.

  2. Writtle University College has won the 2017 Cereals Challenge having risen to the challenge of growing the best virtual crop of spring barley.

    Taking second place were Harper Adams University, who also claimed the prize for the Communications Challenge, whilst the team from the Royal Agricultural University took third place.

    Winners Writtle were presented with the prestigious Cereals Challenge trophy and £1000 prize money to share, plus an additional £500 for the College, by David Hutchinson, Hutchinsons chairman, at an awards ceremony during the Cereals Event.
    Back in February, eight teams representing universities and colleges from around the country, were offered the choice of growing a virtual crop of either a high yielding feed barley on heavy soil in a black-grass situation, or a moderate yielding malting barley on sandy soil with moisture limitations, explains Paul Hobson, of Hutchinsons.

    Writtle IMG_15141 optim

    The team from Writtle made up of  Henry Hawkins, George Padfield, Harry Coppin and Oliver Martin, opted to grow a light malting barley, after sugar beet, on the Suffolk brecks due to its proximity to malsters. " We felt that it was worth aiming for the premium, so opted to grow Octavia as it has a robust disease profile, is approved for brewing and distilling, with low grain N, and were confident that we could manage weed control fairly easily in this situation, as we did not have to contend with blackgrass,” says team captain Oliver Martin.

    “We are thrilled that we made the right cropping choice and have learnt a lot along the way.  Taking part in the Cereals Challenge has definitely broadened our knowledge of what is involved in growing a profitable crop within the constraints of the scenario and season, and really given us an insight into the decisions that agronomists have to face on a regular basis throughout the season.”

    Judged by Keith Norman, technical director at Velcourt, and Dick Neale, technical manager of Hutchinsons, the final results were based on each team’s agronomic recommendations (evaluating their appropriateness and timeliness for each recommendation) and input cost management.

    Dick Neale puts down the Writtle team’s win to providing the most accurate and justified recommendations, and ultimately this was the crop that would have been the most profitable of any if it were really being grown, he says.

    Keith Norman underlined the importance of experience such as the Cereals Challenge for young people considering careers  in farm management or agronomy to understand the value of  good technical information and a agronomic  advice in crop production, against a background of increasing pesticide resistance, regulation and a likely decrease in support beyond 2020.

    Set up as a joint initiative between Hutchinsons and Velcourt to offer an insight into careers in agronomy or farm management, the Cereals Challenge has proved a success in its seven-year history with 6 students joining Hutchinsons successful Agronomy Foundation Training Programme, whilst Velcourt has taken on seven students into its management training scheme, four  of whom are now managing their own farms.
    For the first time this year, the Cereals Challenge incorporated a Communications element, reflecting the importance of being able to communicate technical issues either as an agronomist or farm manager.  Teams were asked to write a news style piece suitable for publication on a farming website, based on their fertiliser recommendations.

    Harper Adams IMG_15171 optim

    The team of Joe Bagshaw, Rebecca Creasey, James Whatty and Helen Brown from Harper Adams University team won the prize of £400 and will also have the opportunity to meet with Farmers Guardian publishers  Briefing Media, to find out more about what is involved when writing for the press.

    Judge and GAJ representative Jamie Day, said, that the piece from the Harper Adams teams was a clear winner in terms of style, layout, the summary table and meeting the brief.

  3. Precision farming is being practised on many farms; we know that being able to measure exactly what is happening in a field at a particular time, combined with agronomist support, can help to more accurate and appropriate input decisions.

    One particular methodology that has been practised for some time is measuring the green area index of a field which allows growers to take real time measurements of the canopy during the crop’s life.  

    Known as remote sensing, this measurement relies on the reflection of light from the leaf surface and specialist machinery has been developed around this concept that measures crop reflectance at different levels.

    However to date this capability for real-time remote sensing  has often been inaccurate due to unreliable satellite imaging, and the high cost of the specialist sensor equipment.
    “Real time measurements are notoriously inaccurate as there are so many factors that can affect the readings, crop layers, growth stage, the angle of the sun for example all have an effect, so you could be paying an awful lot of money for technology that is not really working,“ says Matt Ward, services manager for Farmacy.

    Plant Vision

    Believing that there was a more cost-effective and accurate way to gather green area index data that allowed for a more integrated crop management approach, was the driver behind the development of Hutchinsons green area index sensor, Omnia Plant Vision.
    Omnia Plant Vision is based on NDVI reflectance sensors that are designed for static use.  By attaching four sensors to the spray boom which sit 5m apart, the data collected by Plant Vision is incredibly accurate as it collects measurements each time the sprayer passes through the field during the season- there is no need for expensive machinery or extra passes through the field- and it can be controlled from inside the cab.

    Plant vision optim

    “Data collected through Plant Vision correlates strongly to the Leaf Area Index and Green Area Index and is directly comparable with other NDVI data, explains Mr Ward. “This data can then be run to create shapes that represent differences in green area index across a field, from which bio mass maps can be developed and used in the Omnia Precision Agronomy system.”

    “If data has already been collected through another system that can also be inputted, and used within Omnia.”

    “However, the true value of Plant Vision is the ability to use the biomass information in conjunction with other field characteristics to explain or verify yield potential through Omnia.”

    Using the data in this way can help to answer the question of whether or not to increase inputs on a poor or high performing area of a field. “It’s not about aiming for an even crop, it’s about manging the agronomy of particular areas of the field that require a more prescriptive approach to push for optimum yield potential.”

     “For example, at the beginning of the season, regular biomass measurements will allow the user to look at how the crop has tillered and where this is poor it may need additional early nitrogen. Later in the season the better performing areas of the crop may need pushing and this justifies more nitrogen.”

    Plant Vision will be launched at this year’s Cereals event, to find out more visit the Hutchinsons stand No 926 at Cereals.