John Stone farms 1100 acres of combinable crops just south of Worcester. With land that runs from very light sandy loam right through to heavy clay, he has to contend with great variability right across the farm.
In 2011 the farm was mapped for P&K, and that autumn they carried out their first variable rate application. "We've put a lot of time and effort into our precision farming," says John who now uses variable rate P&K, nitrogen and seed, all controlled with a SOYL-OPTI. His reasoning is very straightforward; "It just makes sense."
Something else that makes sense for John is working with a team who are able to support him both in terms of technical assistance and decision making. He has particular praise for his SOYL representative Harry Rabetts. "His assistance is exceptional and we are really pleased with it," states John.
While the particular technology and techniques of precision crop production are new, John recognises that in many ways it is a return to traditional farm management. "My father enjoys telling me stories about where hedges used to run, or where they needed an extra horse to pull the plough because it was a heavier soil type. Although many of the hedges were pulled out by my grandfather, I can see that in the crops and the variations in soil types."
Improvements in machinery have meant that much of this intimate knowledge of the land has been lost, but now the wisdom of recognising variations and managing the land accordingly is being recognised. "We've been able to go back to this variable farming technique that was used donkey's years ago.
"My father's had a look at the maps we've produced. He's been farming this land for around 50 years and he was very impressed. All the things he's had in the back of his head – that the land gets a bit heavier in that corner, or varies as you get up the hill – it all seems to tally with the maps."
John was particularly keen to get started with the variable rate seed, having attempted to do it manually in the past. "You sit on the drill and reach a heavy patch where there might be increased slug activity, or the germination is just lower. You press the +5 button on the drill, but when you reach the other end you've forgotten that you've pressed it so you carry on drilling the higher rate. When you get back to the original area it's all over the shop!" Using a SOYL-OPTI has made life a lot easier, and John is pleased with what he sees. "It looks really good, so we're happy with that."
"We’ve put a lot of time and effort into our precision farming."
He is also pleased with the benefits he has seen from using variable rate nitrogen. While he still uses the same amount, he is now confident that he is putting it exactly where it's needed. And the results are visible. "I was walking around with our agronomist the other day and he mentioned how even the crops look. He wasn't prompted, it was just an off the cuff comment. He also mentioned how even our growth stages are across the farm." This has very practical benefits, notes John, for example when applying fungicide."You really want to be applying the fungicide at the correct growth stage in every inch of the field. If your flag leaf isn't out on the backward crops on a headland, you're not protecting it. But you have to make the application anyway as the majority of the field is ready. Using the nitrogen to even up the crop really seems to have worked, and we have less dependence on plant growth regulators."
With P&K John has seen a reduction in the amount he uses. "Putting your P&K on in the correct amount in the right place to hit those 2-, 2+ indices is just good farming and means you're not wasting product. Doing it the correct way rather than just broadcasting willy nilly year after year just makes sense, doesn't it?"