Well there we were, one moment it was over 20 degrees and I was looking for my shorts, then a few days later, snow. Well a couple of flakes anyway, but really cold northly winds. You could almost hear the crops grind to a halt. Statistically we are more likely to get snow at Easter than we are at Christmas. My Dad always used to say don’t change cloth until May is out. Not sure if he meant the blossom or the month. Mind you, in his latter years he would sit out in the full heat of summer in a long sleeved shirt and a woolly jumper.
The spring cereals are now all sown even on the horrible, clay cap. Just like last year, that has gone from a pudding to concrete. Dare I say it, but some warm rain would be really helpful.
The top picture is of tractor driver Ian, spreading fertiliser to a newly emerged crop of spring barley. We apply our nitrogen fertiliser using satellite images like the one below.
This image is from one of our fields in May of last year. The system uses infrared images to measure bio mass. The more green material, the more light is reflected back. A scale is then used to highlight the thick crop shown in dark green, all the way through to red where the crop is very thin. We then use these images to vary the amount of nitrogen fertiliser we apply. Early in the season I apply more to the poorer areas to boost the growth. Later on I change it around and apply more to the good areas as the yield will be higher here and therefore it needs more food to fulfil its potential. This is all driven by a gps system in the tractor, using a map that I create to apply the varying amounts of fertiliser. I also use these images to vary other inputs such as treatments for disease or to control the height of the crop. All this means I can apply exactly what each part of the crop needs and no more. There is no drenching of soils with chemicals as Michael Gove once said! This year, March was so dull that getting satellite images has been near impossible. If there is cloud cover you cannot get an image. Normally, I would receive at least one a week. This year I only got two that I could use in March.
There are now more and more providers of this kind of service and most require a subscription. We have very variable soils as you can see from the image above, which leaves uneven crops, so the cost is more than covered by the benefit I get. This is shown in a much more uniform yield of grain across the field, which in turn raises my total output. Some of the large chemical companies have started to offer digital platforms with satellite images and data analysis. I am trying 2 such sites this year. The first called ‘Fieldview’ is really good at the data analysis and sends some excellent images, but it has so far been lacking in the seamless application of crop inputs. The second one, with a similar name ‘Field Manager’, is much better at actually communicating and providing information to the tractor to vary inputs, but does less in the way of data analysis. All these manufacturers are not doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, they are after our data. For instance, what products are we using, in what quantities and how much are we paying for them. Big brother is out there watching us all and making money from it. We just have to decide what that is worth to us, so it can be a winning situation for both parties.