Arable Farming May 2019

Long Meadow - 36m Headland shown in red

We will shortly be looking to replace one of the sprayers ahead of next season. We put nearly £1.5million of agchem through each sprayer over its lifetime with us, so it is important to make the right choice. If we can make just a few percent saving on input costs through the selection of the right machine, this will go a long way towards covering its cost. The difficulty seems to be making sure the promises can be turned into reality after sale, especially when dealing with the latest technology where reliability can still be a major issue.

I carried out an exercise a few years ago looking at the impact of headland effect on yield, ranking each field by the proportion of headland. On 36m tramlines, with the shape of some of the fields, the results were quite surprising, ranging from 25 to 85%. Probably most concerning however, was the fact that the average was 50%, therefore half of every hectare farmed was within the outside 36m of a field. Thankfully the field at 85% has been put down to stewardship, but on its own this has done little to ease things. This struck me as being very important for considering where to focus attention to increase yields, as this doesn’t even take into account infield obstacles like trees, manholes, telegraph poles – of which we have many!

With an average field size of just 8ha, and some very irregular shaped fields, this should perhaps come as no real surprise, but it does show that attention is required in this area, both to help save inputs, as well as how to improve yields. We have already gone down the route of automatic section control on the sprayers (as well as the spreader and drill now), but at 2m sections, some of the field corners can still be quite tricky. The benefit of taking these areas out of production has been reduced now with current stewardship guidelines demanding that more ‘management’ is required, therefore we still end up needing to make applications to these areas, but just for a different end purpose.

As a result, it is becoming evident that greater and greater accuracy will be needed, most likely down to individual nozzle control to manage areas of fields separately through RTK boundaries, to ensure that the application to one area does not stray into the other, which is easier said than done!

I am also very interested in the latest technology being used to vary the rates of application across a boom when going around corners. Despite routinely backing into all corners, it is still too common a sight to see patches of grassweeds on the outside of bends where pre-ems have been underdosed by the boom travelling too quickly. Or heavily stressed plants on the inside of turns, which have received a double dose of PGRs in the spring. If there is technology out there that can reduce the impact of this then it would seem sensible to look into it, even if it does not help make any savings, it should help to ensure a more accurate application.

Although this all looks good in theory, I am yet to gain a full understanding of how much this is going to cost, so I will have to reserve judgment until then.