An increase in the number of satellites available to generate field images is aiding accuracy of nitrogen application maps.
It has led to a significant improvement in the detail and regularity of images available, according to precision nutrient management service, SOYL.
SOYL predicts that ability to unlock yield potential using mapping data will be further boosted by more satellites due for launch in the next two years.
SOYL’s commercial director, Simon Parrington, said: “There is a direct link between the number and quality of images available and the potential to improve yield.
“When we started developing our mapping techniques in 2001 we were working from just two or three images of a field during the nitrogen season and that remained the case until more recently.
“However, a wave of additional satellites in the last few years has increased the reliability and frequency of images. Most of our growers now receive at least 12 images, so we can target their spring nitrogen even more.”
SOYL says its variable rate nitrogen system is based on interpreting satellite images and presenting data in a way that is easy to understand. Nitrogen maps are made by SOYL, or the grower, using its self-service website.
Welford Farms near Newbury has used SOYL variable rate nitrogen for 10 years, says manager Rob Waterston. “We have hosted a number of trials where we have compared variable rate against flat rate nitrogen and all have shown yield increases of at least 3 per cent in favour of variable rate.
“In the early days we would work from just three or four images per season and even then we saw a benefit. Now we get over 13 fresh images through the spring which is incredibly useful when making management decisions around the farm.”
Variable rate nitrogen has a maximum cost of £8/ha (£3.20/acre) for unlimited applications through the spring application season, reducing when more hectares are committed to the service, explains Mr Parrington.
“With an average benefit of £56/ha against a maximum cost of £8/ha this represents a return on investment of 87%. Spreaders and sprayers can be equipped for variable rate nitrogen for as little as £700.”