THE benefits of precision farming were outlined to producers at an event held in Driffield last week.

The potential to make financial savings through the use of precision farming equipment can be significant.

However, growers who are considering trying out the new techniques should make some rough estimates relating directly to their own farms, before going ahead with any major investment, Ian Beecher-Jones told delegates.

Taking a field measuring 12.6ha as an example, he explained that a medium level accuracy system could reduce costs by as much as £64, compared with conventional methods. Most of the savings come from reduced overlapping and making better use of inputs, particularly when variable rate application techniques are adopted.

Farms where a high level accuracy system is adopted could potentially make savings of £150 or more. When these figures are transferred to a calculation based on a 500ha farm, a medium level accuracy system could save almost £5,500/year and a high level more than £9,500.

Mr Beecher-Jones said there were numerous options on the market to set up the equipment required for precision farming. These are generally classified using low, medium and high, to describe their accuracy levels – low: +/- 50- 100cms; medium: +/- 10cms; high: +/- 2cms.

He said: “Satellite-based guidance systems may not have the necessary repeatable accuracy to meet current expectations, so a number of producers are exploring the potential of RTK-based (real time kinematic) equipment for their farms.

“If the initial investment in a radio-based network is prohibitive, then it is a good idea to examine the opportunities offered by local RTK networks, which should be available in their area. Equally, the GPRS (general packet radio service) mobile phone signal should be considered, especially for growers who demand a high level of accuracy, but who are unwilling to invest in expensive infrastructure costs.

“GPS is currently the most widely used satellite network which can deliver signals, but the GLONASS system (Global Navigation Satellite System), developed by the Russians, is starting to play a much more important role.

“In general, the more satellites a receiver can pick up, the greater the reliability of signal and the accuracy.

The GLONASS satellites have a steeper elevation angle, which may reduce shading issues caused by trees.”

Precision farming works best when everyone involved is keen to make it a success; people need to ‘buy in’ to the concept, Mr Beecher- Jones added.

  • The event was part of the HGCA’s ‘Be Precise’ knowledge transfer programme on precision farming, with involvement from the England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative.