Careful integration with first class agronomy has been Mentmore Park Farm’s key to success in making effective use of precision farming technologies across its 1,500-hectare Buckinghamshire arable business over the past 10 years.
From manual zoning of a single problem field, based on a hand-held GPS and spade, the Gaymer family has progressively adopted variable nitrogen. As well as this, they now have variable P and K applications, variable seed rates, GPS auto-steering and soil scanning as well as yield mapping across their entire home farm and contract farming acreage.
And within the constraints of present technologies, they have even been varying herbicide applications in some cases.
Taking the lead
Robin Gaymer has taken the lead in developing the use of precision farming since returning to join his father Michael and mother Julie in running the business near Leighton Buzzard in 2008.
He says: “Precision technologies are really helping us get the most from our farming. But only because right from their first introduction in 2001 we have carefully integrated them with the knowledge and expertise we have along with our Agrii agronomist Andrew Richards.
“Underlying conditions often mean poorer areas of a field will never have the yield potential of the best parts. Increasing seed or fertiliser rates above a certain level will just be a waste. Equally, the better areas may perform even better if they receive a better balance of inputs.
“This is why the best possible understanding of the soils across every field is so fundamental to success. “At Mentmore Park Farm itself, we have used the experience built-up over the years with a variety of key factors such as drainage, black-grass, slug and establishment problems married with soil sampling to manually divide fields into zones for precision management.
“In contrast, where we have taken on new farms on contract we have employed SoilQuest scanning, soil sampling and mapping to give us the best basis for precision P and K, seed and N applications.”
In addition to variable P and K applications across the whole business, the Gaymers now sow all their wheat at variable seed rates, employing the same amount of seed across each field but adjusting rates by +/-25% depending on underlying conditions.
The purchase of a new 32m sprayer equipped with GPS enabled them to switch to variable liquid nitrogen application in 2009. More recently, variable herbicide applications have been used to target areas of problematic black-grass. The worst areas of infestation received an extra pre-em last season, together with increased wheat seed rates to boost competition.
“Separate pre- and post-em strategies for the headlands of many of our second wheats have been valuable in helping us fight the brome which can be problematic here too. “Greater precision in seed rates proved its worth last year on an undulating 44ha field we contract farm which had always under-performed,” says Mr Gaymer.
“Using a seed rate map prepared from results of SoilQuest scanning, we sowed Solstice at a normal 370 seeds/sq.m overall. This varied from 444 seeds/sq.m on thinner land to 295 seeds/sq.m on deeper ground. This led us to harvest 10t/ha of milling quality grain from a field which had only ever averaged 8t/ha previously. “GPS auto-steering has definitely been our best precision farming investment. It has increased cultivation efficiency by 5-10% and improved combining efficiency by at least as much, giving us fantastic savings in fuel and time, not to mention operator productivity and satisfaction.
“As valuable as they are proving to be for us, the various technologies certainly have not been without their frustrations. Mostly due to communication difficulties between the various tractor, implement and office electronics involved.
“Getting one box to talk to another correctly – let alone ensuring a smooth flow of data from Gatekeeper in the office to our field equipment and back – has been a nightmare at times.”
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