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Precision app’s simplicity is key to success

As an increasing number of growers turn to precision crop production techniques to improve the economic, agronomic and environmental performance of their businesses, more and more people are looking for a simple and efficient way to manage all their precision farming data and tasks.

SOYL launched iSOYL, the first variable rate application system to run on a tablet, in November 2014. It uses a smart cable and adaptor to connect an iPad with all popular spreader, sprayer and drill controllers, and a data transfer system allows information to be effortlessly and efficiently transferred between field and office.

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Sandy Wade-Gerry and his team farm and oversee 1200 acres on the Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire border, growing a range of combinable crops. The family has farmed in the area since 1536, but despite this long history, Sandy doesn’t hesitate to turn to new technology to improve his business.

The farm first began working with SOYL almost 10 years ago and uses variable rate application for its nitrogen and phosphate requirements; they are also looking forward to using SOYLseed for variable rate drilling in the near future. Sandy was one of the first growers to begin using iSOYL when the app went live on iTunes earlier this year.

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“Previously we had just relied on the RDS Vision box, which we got on with very well. It’s a very robust system and we’ve been working with them for many years. But iSOYL appealed because all my family use iPads, we are used to the way it works and being able to take that familiar system into the tractor was an attractive option.”

Having downloaded the app and registered his MySOYL account, there came the first moment of truth – would all the data sync as promised? “I tend to be sceptical with all these things, and I’ll be honest, I expected it to fall flat, but it just sucked up all my data from the SOYL offices and there I had it; all the fields complete with names, numbers and the recommendation. There was no messing about with the SD card which we had to do before. It was an absolute delight because it worked flawlessly.”

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The next step was to install it in the tractor, “The system comes with a rugged rubber case to protect the iPad from knocks and bumps, which is great. That is mounted in the cab and then connected to the RDS box. Very straightforward."

When iSOYL was being developed one of the main considerations was ensuring it was practical to use, as Tom Parker, business development manager explains, “When you mount the iPad in the tractor cab, you have a large, full colour, touch screen display. That makes everything really clear and much easier to use than having to peer at a small screen and fiddle with tiny buttons. That can make a real difference if you are amending your application files on the move or dropping markers to record a point of interest, especially when travelling across a bumpy field.”

So what did the operators on Sandy’s farm make of iSOYL once it was up and running? “The men were, like me, quite sceptical because in the past we have had various electronic devices that are supposed to save you time, but actually end up costing you more time. But after an hour’s demonstration from SOYL’s staff they were starting to get the hang of it and see the potential benefits. Now they’ve been working with it for a while, they are really pleased with it – they’d like to use it for everything.”

Sandy puts the wide appeal of the product down to its simplicity and familiarity, “The iPad is a product that has been honed by a multi-million dollar company, and the clever thing is that SOYL haven’t reinvented the wheel by making their own screen; they’ve got a well known, tried and tested product and added SOYL to it. We use some of the systems from the major tractor manufacturers. They often cost thousands of pounds because they have created a bespoke product, but none are as graphically user friendly as iSOYL. It’s lovely and clear and simple to use. The operator just presses an icon, the field list comes up and they are off.”

When you install any new system there may be a few teething troubles and Sandy admits there had been an issue with competing GPS signals from the control equipment. But while this has been frustrating, what has impressed him is the support he has received to resolve the issues, “We’ve been working on the frosts for the last few weeks and when we have a good frosty morning the men Stephen and Dale start work at 4am. They need everything to work in that situation as you don’t want to be worrying about iPads and the like when you’re driving a £100,000 machine in the pitch dark. I reported the problem to SOYL and they came along very quickly to sort it out. They came out to the farm to work directly with us, and were supported by their technical team back at base. There was also the phone support and it was refreshing to hear someone say ‘don’t worry, ring me at any time, even at the weekend’.”

An additional feature of iSOYL is that it allows users to add their own points of interest such as weed populations or crop variation in their fields by simply dropping a pin on the relevant area and recording a note, a function that Sandy can really see the benefit of, “If the driver is going along and comes across a bad patch of cleavers, black-grass or other problems, he can automatically record it and we can then address that. We’ve never had that facility before. I don’t see any reason why it can’t be used for everything. Can you get it to make the tea as well?”

Would Sandy recommend iSOYL to other farmers? His answer is an emphatic yes, “You’ve got inputs which cost literally tens of thousands of pounds and I think to quibble over an investment like iSOYL is very short sighted. The driver needs every aid he can get to ensure that his fertiliser is put on correctly, at the right rate and in the right part of the field, and iSOYL addresses all those issues and gives the operator a nice clear display. It’s simple, the men like it.”

Simon Parrington, commercial director of SOYL is pleased with the way the product has been received “The launch of iSOYL has generated more interest than any other service in our 22 years of precision farming in the UK, and has attracted attention from around the world. This confirms that growers want simple solutions to complex agricultural data management tasks. iSOYL provides those solutions and saves money too.”

To find out more visit www.isoyl.com or call 01635 204190 to speak to a SOYL advisor.

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