Precision agriculture is paving the way for advancements in arable farming and variable rate technology has the capacity to vastly improve efficiencies.
In addition, it can limit environmental impacts and create a sustainable farming future. Most variable rate applications are now generated online, allowing farmers to access soil, crop and overall field data from the farm office.
The key revolution is in the transfer of data from online software to practical in-field implementation – something which is improving at a phenomenal rate. Whether farmers need to view field or farm nutrient data, create seed calculations, access pH maps, or calculate variable rate fertiliser plans, it is now accessible all in one place.
One of the latest innovations to come out of precision crop production service provider SOYL is its MySOYL web-based tool. Users can access the website quickly to produce tailored variable rate applications, explains Tom Parker, head of products and technology.
It allows both growers and their advisers to analyse farm data and manage the whole business from a single source. “Despite having a simple interface, it gives a level of sophistication for advanced users, while not complicating the process for other users.”
Farmers can create custom seed calculations, cultivation depth, slug pellet dispersal or herbicide applications.
“There is now the ability to create a variable rate technique for any product they like,” says Mr Parker.
“Not only can they vary the rate in the field, they can exclude areas completely, meaning no product will be applied around sensitive areas such as watercourses – which has environmental benefits.”
The SOYL Zone Switch, launching at CropTec Show in November, ensures the application of slug pellets or granular substances is turned off in sensitive areas so the product is only applied where and when it is needed, he explains.
The switch can be programmed through the web application and attaches to the field equipment.
Another development is that users are now more than ever able to operate wherever they are, as the internet on things enables various types of technology to communicate with one another.
SOYL has launched an iPad app, iSOYL, which allows farmers to manage variable rate applications directly from the tractor.
“It’s all hands-off transfer from the office to the tractor,” adds Mr Parker. “The app then records applications which it sends back to the tractor.”
It is also possible for satellites to provide images of how crops are growing throughout the season and for electro-conductivity scanners to ascertain soil type maps, he explains.
All of this information can then be combined on the web platform to create variable rate application plans.
“The technology does not want to lose sight of the fact it’s dealing with growers who are doing practical field applications.” John Deere has been heavily involved in developing precision farming tools, dating back to 2001.
Marketing manager Chris Wiltshire says: “The biggest change which is happening now is how we handle data.” Its online data platform, MyJohnDeere, is a portal through which farmers or agronomists can make inputs or changes to farm and field data, as well as application plans. Farmers can also give their contractors permission to access the field data for ease of management.
This can then be utilised in the field using the GreenStar in-cab system. Machine learning will also be applied to John Deere’s sprayers after its acquisition of Blue River Technology. It has integrated computer vision which will enable growers to reduce herbicides by only spraying where weeds are present.
“This allows for focused chemical application which in the future will become ever more of a solution,” says Mr Wiltshire.
“Farming is likely to see elements of consolidation in the next five years and having the information available to make decisions is key,” he adds.
“Precision farming, with more focus on the knowledge element, is vital to efficiency in farming.”