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The future is precision – and it’s not just for the big boys – The Scottish Farmer – Stewart MacIntyre

It's been an exciting and interesting journey into the world of precision farming for Nick Ridley, Park End Farms, Hexham, Northumberland, during the last year. ...

In autumn 2019, Nick was one of the first farmers in the north to have his farm scanned using the innovative TerraMap and is already seeing the benefits of a variable, more accurate and insightful approach to his crop nutrition.

This is a high definition soil scanning system that unlocks soil data at a level previously unseen. It uses passive, gamma-ray detection technology, providing high-definition mapping of all common nutrient properties, pH, soil texture, organic matter and CEC as well as elevation and plant available water. The results are used to create maps within the Omnia precision system for practical application by farmers.

Soil Health

“It all really began a couple of years ago,” explained Nick. “Traditionally, all our land has been ploughed, as is much of the land around here, but we started to realise that this may not be the best approach any longer, as our soils were not looking as good as they could be, drainage was poor and we had very few, if no worms in the top soil.

On the advice of his Hutchinsons agronomist, Stewart MacIntyre, Nick agreed to have a Healthy Soils assessment done and this confirmed that changes need to happen to improve the soil health on the farm. “We had to find an alternative approach to ploughing so we agreed to trial a Mzuri Strip drill in autumn, 2018.

The results have been impressive. “Despite the obvious savings on fuel and labour, we are seeing better looking crops, supported with healthy wide reaching roots, and plenty of worms in the top soil.”

Accurate view of soils' nutritional status

Stewart then suggested having the fields mapped using TerraMap so we could get a really accurate and detailed view of our soils’ nutritional status.

“It was really clear that we had issues with our P and K levels, and pH levels were also highly variable across the farm. We weren’t surprised, as you ‘know your fields’ and we suspected some deficiencies, but the TerraMap results confirmed this and gave us the accurate levels of data we needed.

“Luckily, we had an existing Kuhn fertiliser spreader with a variable rate box, and a variable rate drill, both of which connected up to Omnia really easily through the Connect system – all we had to do was plug in our iPad to the tractor – the variable plans were transferred and we were into variable rate nutrition. It was as easy as that!

TerraMap

“Potassium was variably applied for the first time this autumn –- and the cost savings have been notable,” said Nick. “We used Primary P at drilling in our first experience of using a placement fertiliser and the results were impressive – plants certainly had more tillers and were better rooted. We will look at addressing the phosphorus by applying it straight onto the stubbles this coming autumn,” he added.

“It’s certainly been a really interesting journey. I used to think that precision and tools, such as TerraMap, were just for the big boys, but having now embraced the technology we have been able to see the benefits on a small arable unit like ours.

“No doubt we will learn more and more as we become more familiar with Omnia and start to use it in different ways. We will take this onto the next obvious step this autumn with variable drilling,” pointed out Nick.

Park End Farm facts

Park End Farm has been in the Ridley family for last 200 years.

Biomass wood fuel supply company and leading installers of Froling Wood chip and pellet biomass boiler systems for commercial public sector and private estates.

Supplies 10,000 tonnes of woodchip/year to more than 100 boilers.

Rotation – oats, first and second wheats, plus barley.

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