Precision farming, the next generation

It’s fair to say, I’ve worked with precision farming since 2005 and have followed the concept since the day a yield map was created for the very first time in Bedfordshire some 26 years ago.

So, how far have we come? Do you use variable treatments as the norm? Has the agricultural industry taken up ‘site-specific farming’ as wholly as, say, three-point linkage, the diesel engine and air conditioning? No? Why ever not?

Sure, machine guidance such as Autotrac have become commonplace, with arrow-straight rows of potatoes, maize, veg and, of course, tramlines giving away the technology used. Auto switching of fertiliser spreaders, sprayers and drills is also gaining popularity. The financial and environmental benefits are easy to pinpoint.

But what about the technologies’ original purpose – to vary the rate of a product according to a soil map information  or, more recently, crop conditions via live sensing?

After you’ve bought the new spreader, sprayer or drill and invested in more desktop software. After you’ve done the required sampling and sent it off. After you’ve trained staff and adopted the ‘faith’ yourself. Have you actually made anything on the bottom line? Certainly, AHDB’s Farmbench benchmarking activities reveal no standout differences for both precision farming ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’.

So what’s going on? Is the cost too high and the savings and yield increase too low? Probably.  So at AHDB, we’re keen to promote farmer-to-farmer learning and explore how to make use of such technologies to a) know where you are and b) know what you should be doing.

Maybe it’s not all about profit? Maybe environmental protection is the route to precision in agriculture? To ensure nutrients are optimised, sprays are applied exactly where they should be and slurries are used to the best effect without run off.

The debate can and should go on and researchers are keen to understand.



Based at Ashkam Bryan near York, Harry grew up on a beef farm in his native north Wales. Subsequently, Harry developed an interest in farm machinery that took him around the world working in agriculture. Having managed a plant breeding farm near Cambridge for Monsanto, in 2005 Harry joined John Deere as Crop Systems Specialist, from where he was recruited by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.

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