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This week down on the farm...

6 Apr 2022 | College


With the turbulent and troubling situation in Europe resulting in the cost of inputs, out puts, fertiliser and crops reaching record breaking highs, it’s been great to get on with some routine work applying the first of the nitrogen fertiliser to crops on the farm.

For me this is always an exciting time of the year - the crops are waking from their winter dormancy (albeit not that dormant this year due to the mild weather), the sheep are lambing and spring calving is underway. So, despite lots of uncertainty for the industry, the agricultural production cycle restarting for another season is a reassuring element of normality.

On a positive note, the challenges we are facing bring a lot of the college’s goals to farm in an environmentally sustainable way into much sharper focus. Fertilisers enhance the growth of plants and are added to maximise crop production for us to feed the population. Nitrogen, is an essential nutrient making up around 78% of the air we breathe and to grow, plants need nitrogen compounds from the soil. However, the production of nitrogen fertilisers uses large amounts of natural gas and energy. Therefore, we need to be sensitive in our treatment of the land and application of fertilisers.

Thanks to the college’s status as part of the Institute of Technology we have already been working to apply inputs more precisely and improve our soil health to reduce our reliance on carbon intensive inorganic fertilisers. This approach is even more relevant in the context of current challenges, as the rising price of fertilisers means there is a significant financial impact to our return on investment as well as the environment. However, the aim to produce food more sustainably, shouldn’t mean compromising on output. As, farmers we are responsible for feeding the nation and recent events have shone a light on global food security. Even our small part of East Yorkshire plays a part in world food production.

So, this week we have been out applying some enhanced urea fertiliser with our GPS steered fully variable rate and weigh cell fertiliser spreader, working to variable rate maps produced from satellite imagery. We use satellite images to assess the condition of crops, which our farm management system then uses to determine which parts of the field require more fertiliser and which need less. This high-tech approach enables us to be highly controlled in the application of the fertiliser minimising waste, making it more cost effective for the farm and reducing the amount of fertiliser being applied to the land to lessen any impact on the environment.

This information is then translated into a prescription map of the field, indicating where more or less of the fertiliser should be applied. You can see an image of the prescription map to the right, with the darker areas representing where more density of fertiliser is required. The map is then loaded on to our cloud system so it can be accessed from the terminal in the tractor cab. The actual application of the fertiliser is also controlled from here.

As the tractor travels across the field, the fertiliser spreader is constantly monitoring the weight of product in the spreader, the application width and forward speed to control the amount of product being applied. The rate of application is dictated by the GPS map, with the system continuously communicating with the spreader to determine exactly how much to apply in that specific part of the field.

This precision application, that is entirely controlled by technology means we can get the very best from the land to maximise our crop output whilst also minimising our environmental impact. Although, with the tractor even steering itself, it leaves me to ponder where things might be this time next year or what tomorrows Wordle might be…

James Richardson

Farm Manager


If you’re interested in Precision Agriculture, click here to check out our range of Institute of Technology courses. These include FREE short courses to upskill those already working within agriculture thanks to funding from In Work Skills.

Or look at our full range of higher level Agriculture courses here.

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