The sustainability of farming in the future depends on effective environmental management. For Ian Pigott that is at the heart of his approach to agriculture and he sees precision crop production as a valuable tool.
“I’m not only proud of the quality of the food that I produce, but also of the biodiversity of the environment that I manage” he says. Between his own farm and the land that he manages for clients, Ian covers 1700 acres in Hertfordshire. Around 1100 of these are under his direct control in a Higher Level Stewardship agreement, and he is also a LEAF demonstration farmer.
“Because of these commitments, accurate analysis of inputs is very important for our environmental and sustainability credentials, and our LEAF Marque” says Ian. “It also ties in very neatly with the education work that we do.”
Ian began soil mapping in 2006, and in the last 3 years has more fully adopted precision crop production. He currently uses variable rate P&K and nitrogen, and for the future is considering variable rate seed and slug pellet applications.
“One of the most significant benefits for my business is that we can budget more accurately for our phosphate use and be sure that we are applying only to the areas where we are trying to maximise yield. Because of the combination of that and what we are doing with variable rate nitrogen, we know that we can tailor the application to suit the needs of each individual field.”
It is not always a case of seeing which parts of a field need more nutrients; sometimes the right decision can be to reduce inputs on areas of land that appear to be performing poorly. For example says Ian, a satellite image might show an area of a field with a low green area index.
“While initially this might indicate that we should apply more fertiliser to that corner of the field, I might know through my own experience that the area has significant rabbit damage, or is waterlogged from a wet winter. Consequently we know that the potential of that part of the field is really low, so we might reduce the nitrogen application completely in that space.” The variable rate applications make it simple to alter spreading plans accordingly. “I like that level of control and knowing that I’m not thoughtlessly throwing product around.
"I think that precision crop production is one of the few things that just makes complete sense."
“It also means we can address areas where we might have more significant run off – we can reduce our nitrogen application in certain areas to comply more effectively with our NVZ (Nitrate Vulnerable Zone).”
Addressing environmental issues with use of new technology also makes financial sense to Ian. “I am very interested in embracing technology for the good of our sustainability. That’s the commitment that I make to my business – that we will reduce our environmental footprint as much as we can within the constraints of the financial restrictions.”
Additionally, Ian believes that variations in the commodity market make a move to precision crop production an attractive prospect. “We’re all very conscious of market volatility. Over the last 5 years there’s been an enormous differential between the peaks and the troughs of the P&K and nitrogen markets. At the same time I’d say that the technology that can help you be more effective with your applications has become relatively much more affordable. I would think that if anyone is currently looking to replace machinery, that they would be grabbing precision technology with both hands.”
Ian believes that precision crop production has now reached a point where it is accessible and practical for many more growers, “The science and technology is now at a level where we can more accurately target our use of inputs, and if there is both a financial benefit and an environmental benefit, why wouldn’t you do it?
“I think that precision crop production is one of the few things that just makes complete sense. If you do the maths it all adds up, so it’s not a difficult decision.”