A succinct management strategy is at the core of any successful business.
With technology evolving rapidly, farmers are gaining more tools to help them maximise productivity and efficiency. So, what are the latest developments in farm business management?
Precision farming is a hot topic right now, with information-based techniques increasingly replacing traditional practises and influencing management decisions, says Richard Cooksley, director at the Institute of Agricultural Management.
“The day of the tractor driver is gone. It’s now the day of the technician – farmers are required to be more than just a driver.”
But what is behind this change? As pressures to be as cost-effective as possible intensify, the development and usage of precision farming is proven to increase farm efficiencies, explains Andrew Atkinson, farm business consultant at Strutt and Parker.
“A few years ago, we carried out a farm-scale study using GPS autosteer and the John Deere GreenStar system. On the half which was farmed using autosteer there was a 10% saving in time and diesel – the benefit speaks for itself.”
Precision farming has also led to the widespread use of GPS imaging.
“Farms can be regularly emailed satellite pictures of crops. This is extremely useful – particularly where farms don’t have an on-site manager,” adds Mr Atkinson.
It is undeniable agriculture is in the midst of a data revolution and while recording programmes have been around for decades, improvements in data-collecting technology and software are allowing farm managers to map data accurately – providing them with a detailed picture of the farm and potentially creating opportunities to reduce costs.
“Crop inputs are expensive and need to be applied precisely to produce the best return,” explains John Hall, director at Sentry Farming. “Variable rate nutrient and soil texture maps allow precision application of fertiliser and seed.
Overlaying combine yield maps and soil maps also helps to understand yield limiting factors and target inputs for best return.
Our clients are able to visualise some of the in-field issues – leading to more informed discussions and longer term strategies and investments in soils.” Sentry Farms have worked with the ADAS YEN (Yield Enhancement Network) project and, as a result, farm managers have been able to increase their knowledge of yield-limiting factors in specific crops.
This has enabled them to target inputs to enhance yields and bring up field and farm averages. “By identifying areas which are consistently poorly performing, we can take them out of production altogether or change the mix of cropping,” says Mr Hall. Reducing inputs has both cost and environmental benefits, which appears to be driving more efficient technology, says Mr Atkinson.
“Farmers are very aware of the importance of cross-compliance and water protection – sustainability is a big thing.”
Of course, it is not just the physical technology which is changing, but also how it is accessed, with farm data now available on demand. “Tablets have become an essential tool. Accessing software online and having all your farm data available on a mobile app has become an extremely important tool.”
So, what can we expect to see over the next 10 years? Drones, driverless tractors and a shift to online systems, predicts Mr Atkinson.
“There is a lot of work going into drones now; using software to identify weed problems and then applying chemical to the specific area. If this can be made available to farmers it has the potential to reduce inputs enormously.”
As well as producing more and more data, there is also a buzz around the internet of things (IoT) which will see machines ‘talking’ to each other, explains Mr Cooksley.
“We will see machines collecting data and automatically alerting an agronomist of an issue, which will then trigger an alert to purchase a certain type of fertiliser for example – the industry is fast heading in the right direction.
Embracing technology in agriculture will lead to cost savings, increased productivity and greater utilisation of assets.”