Yield mapping for root crops has lagged behind cereals, but the ability to study harvest results against field conditions, varieties and treatments could boost profits from such a high value crop. Jane Carley looks at developments.
Aiming to better understand its potato yields, Alby Farming Company and its operations arm Alby Produce has been trialling a mapping system on its four-row self-propelled harvester.
GPS mapping was first fitted to the company’s John Deere 6175R tractor, activating automatic shut-off on a Grimme GB230 belt planter, as farm manager Mike England explains: “This enabled us to accurately measure and map fields when planting.
We could mark different seed sizes, lot numbers, varieties and various other details on the field maps, especially any trials we were doing.”
Alby Farming Company grows about 260 hectares of potatoes on contract to Lamb Weston Meijer, alongside 500ha of combinable crops and 105ha of sugar beet near Cromer, Norfolk.
Improving the precision of its operation meets with its contract partner’s philosophy of ‘if you can measure it, you can manage it’, according to Mr England.
Further data was gathered by Tim Kitson, of specialist agronomy company Potato Solutions, who flew a drone over the crop, gathering infra-red images to show crop foliage colour.
He says: “This gave us an indication of areas that might benefit from a closer look and together with information from our agronomist’s in-field observation and digs, potato cyst nematode [PCN] maps and combine harvesting yield maps, we hope it will help us build a picture of the fields and understand factors relating to any differences in yield within them.”
Attention then turned to the farm’s Grimme Varitron 470 four-row self-propelled harvester. Ben Burgess precision farming specialist Joe Howard says: “GPS positioning is achieved via a John Deere Starfire receiver on the cab roof of the Grimme Varitron, working with Greenstar software on a John Deere display in the cab.
“Yield is measured by a pair of weigh cells at either side of the transfer web as the crop passes over it. The weigh cells are calibrated to accurately weigh the tank load and, as it is an intelligent system, ‘learn’ what they are looking for.
“The data is then exported to the MyJohnDeere portal in the farm office where the yield map can be viewed.
“It is not truly site-specific as there is obviously a delay between the crop being lifted at the digging share and its weight being recorded in the harvester’s seven tonne tank. We can estimate the impact of this delay, but it is still trial and error at the moment. We also factor in a percentage for trash, such as soil and stone which forms part of the harvested load, which varies depending on field conditions,” says Mr Howard.
Mr England adds: “Although the system cannot give us a 100% accurate weight of the crop it gives us a picture of trends and, along with the observations of the harvester driver, we can interpret the differences shown on the maps. It does require the operator to be ‘on board’ with the objectives of what you are doing so he can identify any issues in a particular area of the field that he is harvesting which might affect yield.”
He acknowledges that field conditions can affect precision.
“In the early part of the season we were getting an accurate tonnage, but when wet conditions meant that more soil stuck to the crop, we would have needed to be constantly recalibrating to maintain that accuracy.”
Mr Howard adds that the yield mapping equipment is easy to retrofit to a self-propelled harvester in a couple of days.
He says: “We have successfully fitted it to the two-row self-propelled Varitron 270 and it could also be used on a trailed harvester, with the weigh cells mounted on the picking off table or transfer web. We have already had a number of enquiries to trial the system for this season.”
Mr England adds: “We certainly believe we have got some useful information from 2020.
“One example is fertiliser trials in conjunction with Omex. Clear differences in crop weight/yield could be seen where the field was split between different products and different varieties also showed varied responses.
Useful data can also be fed back to Lamb Weston Meijer as the maps could indicate any seed issues that we experience.”
He says there is scope for widening the trials, for example to study the effect of reducing irrigation by a third on half a field or looking at different methods of fertiliser application, such as liquids through a sprayer or side ridge injection.
The team at Alby Farming now plans to meet ahead of the 2021 campaign to analyse the data further with all the parties who gathered it, to help get as accurate a picture as possible and help plan for the future.
AVR has upgraded its AVR Connect harvester telemetry platform to provide information which can link up with field and crop data from Dutch tech specialist Dacom Farm Intelligence’s precision farming software, to give a more comprehensive overview of field and machine performance.
Using a secure link, AVR machine data can automatically be transferred to the Dacom Cloudfarm application, with the field data automatically uploaded into the AVR Connect platform.
Sensors positioned in various locations on the AVR Puma potato harvester collect data and send it online to AVR Connect. The platform can process and display data, including harvesting and transport activity, geofencing, real-time position of the machine and settings and parameters at a distance. It also offers a remote update option and live overview of all Puma screens and parameters, plus integrated yield measurement via optional weigh cells.
During harvesting, yield and the number of planted potatoes per square metre are recorded and, along with the location data, can be wirelessly transferred to the farm office where information including yield maps can be viewed on the Dacom Cloudfarm platform.
This data can also be used to automatically produce a harvest record of hours, fuel consumption, machine model and total yield.
The package offers reporting and budgeting functions and, via Cloudfarm, machine data can be combined with other information sources, such as satellite, contour maps or soil maps for analysis purposes and used for future recommendations.
Koen Uyttenhove, IOT manager at AVR, says: “Farmers need data to make sound decisions. Collaborations such as the one with Dacom are crucial to be able to present an overall picture and reap the benefits of this linked data.”
Jacob van den Borne has trialled the system on his farm at Reusel in the Netherlands and adds: “When harvesting I do not have time to manually enter the data originating from our AVR Pumas. As the data is now automatically collected by AVR Connect and Cloudfarm, I can closely monitor the differences within the field. Its main benefit for me is being able check whether the yield data corresponds to other growing season data and reflects the precision measures that I have taken.”
The Cloudfarm package is available as an option on the AVR Puma 3, Puma 4.0 and Ceres 440. AVR Connect is an open platform allowing sharing of data through APIs and link-ups, with other packages including the John Deere Operations Center also planned.