Ben Burgess showcased some of the latest advances in precision agriculture
An event organised by East Anglian John Deere main dealer, Ben Burgess, showcased some of the latest advances in precision agriculture. David Williams reports.Pictured at the event, organised by Ben Burgess and John Deere are (l-r) David Purdy, Carl Pitelen and Howard Chantry with the Field Connect equipment which has been tested this year by one of Ben Burgess’ potato growing customers.Approximately 50 Norfolk-based farmers and contractors attended the presentation, by John Deere precision farming product specialist David Purdy and Ben Burgess group AMS specialist Carl Pitelen.David began by pointing out that it is important to make sure that machinery is set up correctly, otherwise benefits of precision farming technology will be lost.New developments for 2015, he explained, include John Deere’s iGrade system, which helps ensure fields are level to make best use of available, and applied, water.Another development is the 750A drill, which, he said, uses single disc coulters for minimal soil disturbance and low draft requirement, and which is suitable for late drilling of heavy soils providing increased opportunity to tackle black-grass.The ExactEmerge precision maize drill is another product he discussed, and which offers precision seed metering using a vertical conveyor to meter the seed accurately at speeds up to 20kph.Talking about optimising efficiency and ease of use, of equiment he suggested that cloud-based systems offer significant advantages. A frequent problem of managing the farm and its machinery through multiple screens is that settings for the same implement could differ from one tractor screen to another, and there were frequently problems caused by issues as simple as field names spelled differently.”A cloud-based system for the farm means everything is stored in one place so is easy to manage, and whichever tractor and screen is used, the operator would simply select the settings from the ‘cloud’ ensuring the same performance and operation,” he said.John Deere’s MyJohnDeere.com enables users to store and easily access machinery information such as real time JDLink data, AMS updates, MyJohnDeere Operations Centre, StellarSupport and JDParts for their machinery fleets. Free to set up an account, the system can be accessed from office computers, smart phones or tablets.The ability to transfer and store information regarding machinery performance and crops is increasing in popularity, according to the dealer, and Carl Pitelen explained that John Deere’s Gateway data transfer system, JDLink, can be fitted to almost any make and model of machine, providing compatibility with John Deere management software.JD-Link Select is the entry-level version but JD-Link Ultimate provides extra features including remote diagnostics, machine performance and utilisation data, and customer alerts, all in real time.David explained how the on-going development of monitoring systems has been able to improve farm management and he said that while yield mapping was the first application to be widely used, it is only accurate as long as the combine header is operating across its full width otherwise data will not be accurate for specific areas. more recent developments such as “AutoTrac means the header can be kept full, and sensors have improved considerably during the past few years,” he said.Carl Pitelen said John Deere’s JD-Link machinery monitoring and management system is increasing in popularity.”When accurate data is produced it can be relied on for information such as off-take maps for P and K, and for variable placement of nitrogen based on yield predictions for future crops. It also provides dependable information for soil sampling.”Real-time information has become a practical option, in the form of nitrogen applications linked to machine-mounted canopy sensors, but David said accurate root crop yield information remains a challenge, although the company is working on systems to measure yields accurately during harvesting; information which would assist the management of potato, sugar beet and onion crops in particular.”We have accurate cereal harvesting and silage making data through the HarvestLab sensor, so it is just a matter of time before we can do the same for root crops,” he said.The big news was the on-going development of John Deere’s FieldConnect system, which provides accurate information on soil moisture availability and environmental factors and which can be accessed from an internet connection.
Significant benefits could be gained when used to assess irrigation needs for potatoes, vegetables, salad crops, sugar beet, beetroot and in vineyards, and trials have been carried out in the UK with six prototype systems in potato, beetroot and sugar beet crops. The equipment consists of a ‘Gateway’ – a solar and battery-powered in-field control box, soil moisture probes and weather monitoring equipment. The control box constantly monitors weather conditions and takes readings from the soil probes, to four different depths, every half hour. The data is then transmitted to a cloud-based system accessible through MyJohnDeere.com.The main benefit for arable crop producers is to use irrigation to its best advantage. Monitoring soil moisture at four different depths means the owner can keep an eye on water availability, and more accurate disease predictions are possible too.The four sensors on each soil probe transmit a frequency through the soil which, using soil moisture release curves applicable to the soil type, allow a volumetric soil moisture figure to be obtained.The data is sent through a dual-modem system, using both satellite and cellular communications. The Gateway has 16 ports, two of which can be connected to soil sensors, and the others to environmental sensors such as a tipping rain gauge, a leaf wetness sensor, soil and air temperature sensors and a weather station providing wind speed and direction as well as air humidity information which, with the addition of a pyranometer to measure solar radiation will allow the system to provide an accurate evapo-transpiration figure each day.The data is immediately useful, but over time it becomes increasingly valuable, as by layering the data to produce comparison graphs, the user can see over time the effects of under and over-irrigation.”The system allows the user to take the highs and lows out of his irrigation process by making a data-based management decision,” said David. “We have run it during trials with both drip and over-head watering systems and they have proved equally successful.The key is to obtain a flat lower-level soil moisture graph and, with the ability to add comments to the data, the user can record occurrences such as heavy rain or an irrigation equipment failure to explain any exceptional figures. The system automatically calculates its own ‘budget lines’, after three days to show the averages.”Also represented at the event was Greencrop Irrigation and its UK sales manager Howard Chantry explained some of the latest innovations in its range of irrigation products including GPS-based application control, which automatically adjusts the gun angle to compensate for irregular shaped fields or angled headlands.”As well as providing significant water savings by preventing application outside of the target area, the system can be set-up to adjust the travel speed of the gun, so that a constant amount is applied, even as the application width is varied,” he said. A demonstration gun equipped with the new system will be working in the UK during the coming season, and is expected to attract considerable interest, he added.