Technology: The future is now – Agronomist & Arable Farmer – Stuart Hill

The future, new technology, prediction, autonomy, big data, robotics, sensors, ICM, Regen Ag, Carbon, ELMs. All words and acronyms that are becoming a regular part of our everyday vocabulary today....

The future

Continual use of the word ‘future’ is particularly intriguing mainly because by continuing to use it, the future never actually arrives.

The future – what will it look like? Each year our climate seems to present another extreme, which when coupled with Brexit and policy changes over the next few years, brings significant on-farm financial pressures.

However we still need to eat; so food security, whatever the politicians may feel, is still highly important – as we have seen in recent months.

How will this play out on individual farms? Every farm is different. But one thing is for certain, agronomy linking integrated farm and crop management has a critical role to play in supporting profitability as we move into the future.

Stuart Hill, Head of Technology & Innovation

Sustainable farming

Many growers are now looking to leave a longer term positive environmental legacy to support sustainability; a sustainable all-round business is generally a profitable one. That’s a sustainable environment, community and business, they are all inextricably linked.

This begins to explain why Hutchinsons embarked on Project Helix linking technology, knowledge and advice to deliver sustainable farming.

Proving technology provides a benefit

Across the industry there has been a tendency to focus on the technology itself and often there are quotes of technologies that can ‘cut costs’ or improve profitability. However, there is often little evidence to support these claims.

At Hutchinsons any technology has to provide a benefit in productivity or profitability for a given farm situation. Productivity is essentially less time or resource spent producing the same or more, which of course would increase profitability- and this is where technology supporting ICM and sustainability plays a pivotal role.

Development takes place at our Helix national farm in conjunction with the farmers; Andrew Pitts in Northamptonshire and Tom Jewers who hosts Helix East.

A simple example of technology proofed by the Helix project is cost of production mapping. By overlaying yield maps with costs of production maps in our Omnia system it is possible to identify consistent low and high productivity areas in and across fields.

We can investigate areas of low production and either advise remedial action, such as soils assessments, or if it is unlikely to be changed then advise possible environmental options to remove from production. Either way this has a calculatable financial positive impact on profitability.

With emerging policy changes such as ELMs, these schemes will fit nicely into this approach.

Soils are key

Soils are key to long term sustainability and there are several projects that include technologies that aim to monitor, measure and provide positive benefit at the end.

Our rotational planning tool gives a read out of long-term rotational profitability. The tool compares rotations in realistic scenarios adding in other aspects such as cover crops and environmental schemes.

The skill is not just utilising the tool, it’s also understanding the farm business, crop marketing strategy, mechanisation and resource strategy and storage implications to build into the equation. This can then give a rounded comparison and reasoning to deliver better long-term rotation and soils stability.

Another tool developed through Helix is TerraMap. By using remote, more efficient and live testing technologies this has allowed greater accuracy with nutrient and soils maps to be integrated into Omnia.

When layered with yield maps it’s possible to begin to understand in field differences and manage bespoke precision nutrient application. When you couple this with soils knowledge it can be immensely powerful.

Predict and justify

Justification is another key focus. Current and future policy and food chain expectation will be to ensure that the advice and actions delivered on farm are integrated, evidenced and justified.

In anticipation of this, Hutchinsons have launched the Omnia Climate tool. This predicts growth stages which supports planning of applications and logistics which when coupled with pest models is able to justify the efficient use of inputs.

This provides a record of activity, and the thresholds and reasoning behind that. Of course, these systems need human input and as more information is put into the system then the more accurate it becomes.

Predict & Justify

The Helix project is also about collaboration. We are not software programmers but we are grower facing so need to develop tools that support our and growers’ businesses for benefit. Hence, we are always looking for potential partners where we see a solution gap that needs filling.

Suffice to say, technology and our knowledge evolution will develop significantly over the coming years to enable the most appropriate on farm advice possible to support growers…….and I nearly ended with ‘in the future’. For Hutchinsons however the future is now.

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