Despite preconceived ideas about precision farming, running a large operation isn’t mutually exclusive to seeing benefits from technology.

Such is the case for Stuart Dickin, who farms 77ha at Aston Farm, near Wellington, Shropshire and estimates he has already saved several hundred pounds across half that area in his first season of variable rate fertiliser spreading – thanks to Agrovista’s grid-mapping service.

Stuart, who also runs a contracting business, traded in his old fertiliser spreader 12 months ago for a new Amazon Z-AV twin disc model with variable rate capability.

“It made sense to make use of this new option,” he says. “It’s not only about the potential cost savings, although these turned out to be substantial, but also because we are coming under greater scrutiny as a sector.

“We have to be doing this to be considered for the higher tier of the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which shows which way payments will be directed in the future.”

Stuart Dickin

After a discussion with his Agrovista agronomist, Rich Frampton, Stuart decided to take the plunge.

Precision specialist Richard Dulake set up Agrovista’s grid mapping service on the farm, which can be used to apply variable rates of P, K, Mg and lime.

Further nutrients can be included for an additional fee, with Ca and organic matter proving popular, notes Richard.

“The grid map consists of soil sampling points set at 1ha interval across the entire farm. The operator is guided to each point and then logs it, so the same spot can be repeat sampled every four to five years.”

To create a fertiliser recommendation, Agrovista’s precision team require crop information, yield, target pH, muck information and straw policy.

“So far we have tested half the farm – the rest will follow this coming season,” says Stuart. “Historically we blanket spread compound fertiliser, but we switched to straights this season and started applying variable rates.

“It’s quite simple – Richard looks after all the programming and software and has made it all work very well.

“He sends an email with an attachment, which I download onto a memory stick and plug into the tractor. The electronics do the rest – there’s no need to calibrate anymore and I know I’m putting fertiliser only where it is needed.”

The first field resulted in a saving on P and K of £18.50/ha, a figure that Stuart says is typical across the farm’s light soils.

“It just shows how much we have been overapplying. We’ve used a total of 455kg of TSP and 160kg of MOP on 38ha, compared with the 1500kg of compound we used on the same area last season, a saving of £700.

“That’s significant, and at current prices would be considerably higher. The service has already paid for itself – just think what a bigger farm could save.”

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