Arable farms taking a precise approach

Andrew Manfield at the forefront of precision farming.
Andrew Manfield at the forefront of precision farming.

Understanding the land is one of the most basic principles of farming. Simply banging in any old crop at any old time won’t do, which is why farmers take a keen interest not only in the weather but also soil condition.

Precision farming has seen greater usage of yield mapping and variable rate applications of nitrogen in recent years through satellite technology, but work currently ongoing at Stockbridge Technology Centre in Cawood near Selby and Manterra Limited in Sancton near Market Weighton – in conjunction with Cranfield University in Bedfordshire – is, in Andrew Manfield’s opinion, the start of something that will allow farmers to understand their land better, apply less nitrogen and increase their productivity.

Andrew is managing director of Manterra Limited and farms at Hessleskew Farm, Sancton.

“One of the big questions that precision farming businesses are asked all the time is where’s the payback for my investment?” he said.

“One of the big stumbling blocks is that although the technology’s been there to effectively fire-fight once the crop is in the ground, we haven’t as yet had absolute data to inform us fully about what we should do in the field.”

What Andrew is getting at is that the mapping currently used by many farmers who have adopted precision farming isn’t definitive enough.

“Until now the maps that farmers have based their variable rate application upon have been generated by, at best, taking very limited sample readings per hectare. While this is still valuable information and has helped to get precision farming under way, it needs to be improved upon.

“What we’ve been lacking is key information about the soil. That’s why my company has become involved with what is called Tru-Nject specifically designed for variable rate application of subsurface fertiliser injection in vegetable and combinable crops.

“We’re currently taking measurements metre-by-metre right across the field with what to a layman is basically a subsoiler leg that has a sensor attached.

“It is scanning the soil using a light beam with 2,000 wavelengths of light ray into the bottom of the furrow and the results it bounces back will then be translated into the amount of water, phosphate, nitrogen, magnesium and organic matter it contains.

“In so doing that will help farmers make more informed decisions over what to apply and indeed in many cases what to grow. Its technical name is proximal soil sensing.”

Andrew believes the data gained from Tru-Nject will have a major impact on arable farming as growers begin to realise the benefit of more accurate information about their land. “You can build a house without foundations and have to shore it up endlessly.

“What I’m saying is that if we have the information about the foundations of our land to start with, we can understand better where the weak points are, tackle them at source and make a better job of the crop.

“We can’t predict the weather, but we can do our best with what information is already available to us and Tru-Nject can help us record that.”

Another sector Andrew’s involved in is pea vining, one of the East Riding’s less talked about but important crops.

“We became Trimble dealers for the north of England in recent times and have become very pleased to start working with the grower-owned co-operative The Green Pea Company for whom we have fitted autosteer with connected farm facility for one of their pea vining groups.

“This allows the viners to exchange information between them in the field in order to improve efficiency and also enables the Bird’s Eye factory, where the crop is destined, and the group itself to draw down yield and performance statistics.

“This has already shown significant quantifiable benefits not only in terms of absolute output but also how the drivers have been able to operate more effectively by maintaining a very straight line, not tripping over each other in the field and a consistent feed into the viner.

“In terms of efficiency we’re already looking at the adoption of Trimble having made gains of between five and 15 per cent.”

Manterra Limited is one of several technology companies that will be at the Yorkshire Agricultural Machinery Show at York Auction Centre next month where Andrew will be on hand to explain further about all manner of precision technology farming.