Trevithel Court, Three Cocks, Brecon
Focus Site Event: Evaluating benefits of implementing GPS technology and precision farming in grassland operations
This on farm event hosted by Trevithel Court farm looked at whether investing in GPS technology would provide farmers with a cost benefit to them and their businesses.
Evaluating benefits of implementing GPS technology and precision farming in grassland operations
Ian Beecher-Jones, Precision Farming coach and mentor, discussed the practical process of making informed decisions when evaluating investment in precision farming tools and GPS technology for grassland operations:
- Calculating current accuracy of operations
- Expected improvements in performance and profit
- Improving efficiency of work routines
- Entry level equipment available
Calculating current operation accuracy is a simple exercise using a tape measure. Measuring and comparing current operational tramline widths will determine how accurately farm equipment is working. Over or under lapping on field operations will result in decreased efficiency which costs time, money and resources. Investments in GPS technology can increase accuracy of operation resulting in expected improvements in performance and profit as a result of working the fields with exactly the required number of passes and also reducing over application and waste of fertiliser and sprays. Use of GPS tractor technology can also reduce driver fatigue, enable operations in limited light conditions, and allow fertiliser to be spread accurately straight after silage has been harvested.
Entry level GPS equipment is suitable for the grassland farmer. A Light Bar system in the tractor cab costs around £1500 but the driver still has to steer the tractor, watch the screen and adjust the travel line, as well as watch implement operation. Accuracy is infectious, so most farmers regret not investing in an auto steer system at the start. Auto Steer systems cost between £5-10,000, with most new tractors being auto steer ready, but they can be retro installed by attaching a motor to the steering column. The auto steer system takes pressure off the driver, reducing fatigue and improving accuracy of operation.
Combining a precision equipment system using GPS technology with detailed soil nutrient information from zoned soil sampling, means that fertiliser application rates can be optimised across the whole field according to soil and crop requirements. This not only saves time and money but will have significant environmental benefits in reducing over application of P and K, especially near water courses. Improved accuracy combined with Controlled Traffic Farming along the one set of tramlines, will also result in a reduction in overall field soil compaction, reducing water runoff and nutrient leaching.
Both the light bar and auto steer systems can provide sub-metre accuracy of between 10cm – 1m depending on the correction signal satellite system. The more advanced RTK system can achieve 2cm accuracy but requires a local correction mast which may have a greater benefit to a larger farm, or where smaller farms collaborate over the cost of a RTK mast.
Trevithel Court benefit from using a variable rate sprayer on a tractor equipped with Trimble GPS. Andrew Williams, AS Communications representative, has fitted auto steer GPS on his father’s 30 year old David Brown, showing that this technology can teach an old dog (tractor) new tricks! The result is that field work is less tiring for Andrew’s elderly father.
Take away message
Before investing in a GPS system calculate the accuracy of your current operations, then look at the system that suits your budget and expectations of efficiency BUT remember accuracy is addictive! Combine your tractor GPS technology with soil mapping information for your fields, then you will have the potential to save money, time and fertilisers.
With thanks to our keynote speaker –Ian Beecher-Jones and our hosts at Trevithel Court.