Head of Farm Network Gavin Dick Reflects on Harvest
As harvest nears completion across the country and minds begin to focus on autumn drilling, it’s time to begin to reflect on the harvest and current growing season and start to assimilate areas to focus on at the in-depth review which should be taking place later in the year.
It has been another challenging growing season resulting in a lot of variation in yields across the country, between farms and within fields – this pattern has repeated itself over a few years now and you have to wonder if this is the new normal? If it is, how sustainable is it? How long can we sit back and accept that it’s just the weather and we can’t do anything about it?
Adopting harvest technology
Not much longer, I suspect. We have to take a pro-active approach and start measuring that variation early in the production cycle and trying to understand why that area in the field is yielding less than other areas – the technology is there to help, from satellite imagery to soil probes measuring compaction, moisture and a range of other factors.
It may be that there is no solution to improving the yield in a particular area and if so, then it is important to have an idea what the yield will actually be, giving a more accurate production figure for the farm. This makes marketing more effective in that you can sell more forward if the price is high without the risk of over committing and being penalised. You can accept the lower average yield but mitigate with a higher average price – the BioSense app is a good example of emerging technology which will deliver the detailed information to allow this.
By the same measure you should also know your Costs of Production applied to that lower yielding area to judge whether you should have drilled it at all!
The other variation is crop quality – we currently look at the average protein across the whole wheat field (or even the crop!) and that contributes to whether we get a milling premium or not. Technology now measures protein on the combine so that each trailer load will have a specific protein content which can then be stored separately and/or blended to increase the proportion of the crop receiving the milling premium.
The days of managing farm businesses by measuring averages are limited and farm business managers will have to adopt technology which allows management by measuring absolutes, facilitating better informed decision making through the growing season.
So as the drills are made ready, take a pause to look at satellite images, drone footage, yield maps, ground sensors, mobile apps or whatever measures you have, identify the variations and go have a look to see what’s going on.
Best thing you can do is still to get out your Soil Porosity & Aeration Determination Equipment!
Gavin has a broad working experience in agriculture, having managed a large farming enterprise in Aberdeenshire including combinable crops, seed potatoes, pigs, poultry and 650 dairy cows producing milk for ice-cream through a robotic milking system. He then moved to manage an estate in Perthshire specialising in pedigree beef and combinable crops, as well as a country house hotel with shooting and fishing interests. Gavin worked at SAC before moving to AHDB where he worked with farmers in a Knowledge Exchange role to broaden their business management skills and, as he joined Agri-EPI, oversees all Satellite Farm Network activity.