Thanks to the latest in telemetry technology, available for tractors, combines and various other pieces of machinery, users can now make better use of yield maps to increase and make crop production more efficient.
Many farmers have spent years carefully filing yield maps away, unsure of how useful the information will be. But the latest technology and widespread adoption of precision farming to control inputs means that they can have real benefits.
As systems, even from different manufacturers, become able to ‘talk’ to each other, the data can also be used to help make and put into practice future establishment, nutritional and crop protection plans.
One business which is making maximum use of this technology is Velcourt’s Stamford Farms, which uses a pair of Claas Lexion 780 combines equipped with RTK guidance and Telematics to harvest 2,700 hectares (6,672 acres) of cereals grown under six farming agreements.
Farm manager Richard Cobbald says: “We have been yield mapping these farms for a number of years, but since the Claas combines arrived in 2013 it has been a more straightforward process. The maps can be downloaded straight from the telematics website to our
Gatekeeper software, and Soyl also has the login to access the data.”
While it is still possible to gather information from the combine using a USB stick or card to download maps every couple of days, Claas is one manufacturer which now offers data transfer via its Telematics system. Product manager Edward Miller says that about two thirds of its customers using yield mapping now choose this method.
“The operator can focus on driving the combine as the data is automatically transferred to a server, onto which the customer has pre-loaded the field boundary. The server sorts out the jobs for each field boundary and the maps can then be downloaded from the website.”
This, Mr Miller points out, increases accuracy since it is impossible to select the wrong field or forget to switch yield mapping on.
“The maps are also backed up – there are no issues with data cards being lost,” he says. “The information also belongs to the customer, so they can download it and share with a third party, or provide login details so that the data can be accessed at any time. For example, precision farming specialists such as Soyl can download the maps without bothering the customer at such a busy time, and many farmers also give their agronomists access so that they can access the data.”
Most purchasers who specify yield mapping on their combines have a clear goal which the data will help them achieve, compared to 10 years ago when many were simply gathering information.
“It is useful to gather data over a long period – one year’s maps are not that helpful, but with five or ten years’ data you can build a picture,” says Mr Miller. “Farmers have numerous reasons for specifying yield mapping, from simple recording of yields to conducting their own farm trials into fungicides, seed rates, etc.”
The level of detail being recorded has also developed. Data capture originally took place every 10 seconds, whereas modern systems gather information every two to five seconds. “Because the combine is travelling relatively slowly, there is little difference in the data gathered below every five seconds, whereas on a forager every two seconds is preferable,” says Mr Miller.
Velcourt aims for absolute accuracy, Mr Cobbald points out, so the information is supplemented with bushel weights and moisture settings, and where possible the field tonnages are checked on a weighbridge.
“It places extra responsibility on the combine driver or grain store staff to check weights, but we like to be accurate. In oilseed rape we have found that the differential is as little as four per cent – the use of RTK also means that we are getting a true 12m cut, which helps.”
Soyl collates the mapping data and uses it to help Velcourt evaluate management decisions throughout the year. While Soyl is the ‘yield specialist for Claas’ it can also offer this service for other combines, taking the maps directly from the combine via a USB stick.
Soyl’s agricultural development manager David Whattoff explains: “We can overlay the maps with conductivity and nutrient maps, and over a period of three or four years can observe trends in each field.”
The benefits, Richard Cobbald suggests, centre around being able to accurately identify good and bad areas in the field, which usually correspond to soil quality.
“Our soil maps generally correlate to the yield maps. We have not mapped for P and K yet, but that is on the agenda.”
Similarly, correlations are made with weed maps, drawn up from field walks and general observation.
“The data can be used to help make decisions and establish parameters, along with Soyl, on variable rate seeding, which is carried out across our entire acreage,” Mr Cobbald explains . “It also provides information for which could indicate the need for variable rate fertiliser spreading - we are currently trialling variable rate nitrogen on one farm, which is providing useful data, and we will evaluate its effectiveness to see if it will have a more widespread use.”
Maps can also draw attention to issues with soil pH and soil structure and can prompt a soil test, he adds. “There is potential for even more applications in the future – variable rate cultivations look interesting as a way of cutting diesel bills, and variable rate spraying could offer further cost savings, although the application technology is not quite there yet.”
“The maps are also useful for reference if you need to demonstrate a particular issue to a landowner. It is early days for us and we are still evaluating the benefits of yield mapping, but it meets our aim for simplicity and accuracy and there looks to be a lot of potential.”
Mr Whattoff adds: “This is year two for Velcourt, and the data collected via Telematics adds greatly to our knowledge bank for the farms.
The technology is now more robust and reliable and there are lots of possibilities for checking yield results against other information and adjusting management accordingly.”
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