We have lift-off – DJI GO 4 is finally airborne. Not an easy task though.
Talk about needing youth and a technologically-adept brain to get the system working.
Flying is the easy bit. It is all the platforms and downloading/uploading and compatibility challenges that tax my limited know-how and will to persevere.
The term ’user-friendly’ does not spring to mind.
I could probably have walked every blade of crop several times for the weeks of brain ache and deferred flights due to scheduled drone days being scuppered by wind, rain, cloud cover or my techno fatigue. I am sure it is more a reflection of my ineptitude than the gizmo.
In the end I capitulated and hired a technologically savvy, half-my-age neighbour to come and sort the finer cyber details.
The eventual pictures are of striking quality and, having been circumspect about the value of aerial photos, I have to admit they reveal fascinating detail that is informative and compulsive to scrutinise.
I have noticed a flame red tinge appearing on some of the winter oat leaves. Panic about oat BYDV and other possible blights ensued.
But send DJI GO 4 off for a closer look and it turns out it is probably only a bit of cold weather stress that the plants are now showing signs of growing through.
The drone is not only useful for surveying crops; the aerial shots also highlight arresting details in woods and hedges. It helps assess grazing cover and will be useful for checking the condition of farm property roofs as well.
I would like to overlay aerial images with the corresponding soil zoning and analysis results to check for correlations but, due to the lack of industry standardisation, the platforms for the different applications are not compatible.
This strikes me as unhelpful because it deters potential customers from engaging with more than one product and hampers the dissemination of information.
It might be due to the relative lack of rain (200mm so far this year), but we do seem to be suffering less from slug damage.
Some say it is due to more slug-eating beetles surviving on the farm. In the past, we have occasionally needed to request a derogation for ferrous phosphate, but it does seem counter-intuitive to use slug poison and thereby at the same time wipe out the slug predators.
Our intention is that as the organic system matures, biodiversity on the farm will grow and resilience to pests and disease improve.
With all the noise about natural capital and payment for public goods I thought it a strategic moment to embark on a farm biodiversity report.
We are in discussion with the Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) about conducting an inventory, first to identify the current baseline of flora and fauna and then to monitor the change and, hopefully, improvement over several years.
It will not be exhaustive but it will be indicative and DWT professional expertise will give it scientific rigour. When DWT first visited the farm to gauge the lie of the land it was heartening that, as if on cue, a drove of hares and clouds of corn buntings and skylarks made themselves visible.
Since my last article I have twice heard Prof Dieter Helm, Oxford University economist and chairman of the Natural Capital Committee, expound on his radical plans for change.
It is a compelling blueprint and for anyone interested in knowing more I recommend his new book ‘Green and Prosperous Land’. It pulls no punches on farming practices and EU subsidies. Polluter will pay and he considers food security an antiquated notion.
As we already know, an ELMS pilot scheme on soil health was turned down by Defra. Soil health ought to be a fundamental priority of every farmer, not something we are paid extra for.
Agreeing on what actually constitutes soil health is another matter. There is an indication that merely best practice will no longer be sufficient to qualify for public funds. Prof Helm does not claim to have all the answers, but his tenet that it is ’better to be roughly right than wholly wrong’ rings in my ears.