9th August 2010

GPS Technology and Soil Analysis Could Save Farmers Time and Money

The importance of soil analysis and benefits of GPS mapping was a hot topic at the recent meeting of the Cairngorms monitor farm, part of the programme lead by Quality Meat Scotland.

Speaking at Eastfield Farm, Ballater, run by brothers Allan and Jack Adams, George Duncan of Agri Solutions at Alford highlighted the benefits of GPS mapping, a management tool now regularly used by arable farmers.

“Farmers know their own land best, and through experience have learnt that some particular areas on the farm, or even within a field, perform better than others. This can be caused by a variation of nutrients or soil type,” explained Mr Duncan.

“GPS technology provides accurate and easily transferrable, detailed information on the variation of soil nutrient levels, helping farmers make more informed, and money saving decisions on fertiliser and lime applications.”

The first step is to create a field shape outline map, by travelling around the field boundary with a GPS data logger, recording the location every few seconds. A grid, with sizes uniformly tailored as required, is then superimposed onto the field shape outline.

Soil sample cores are then taken from each grid area. The results are amalgamated to produce a single soil sample analysis for that specific grid area. Fertiliser and/or lime is then spread, using a GPS guided spreader, on each grid area according to need, as determined by the soil analysis.

“This technology is particularly valuable to a farmer when he takes on additional land,” added George Duncan. “Instead of farming it for a couple of years and learning where the good and poor producing areas are, this information can now be established in a matter of days, and steps quickly taken to maximise grass performance or crop yields.”

Cattle breeding issues were also discussed, with monitor farmer Allan Adams updating the community group on a mixed bag of pregnancy figures for the breeding herd. While the spring calving cows had provided reasonable results, the autumn calvers had been disappointing.

The exceptionally harsh winter appears to have a major role in the unwelcome number of barren cows among the 72 autumn calvers of which nine were empty. These had been out-wintered on silage and turnips.

This situation appears to be typical throughout Scotland in the wake of the exceptionally bad winter. Cattle fertility specialist vet, Alistair Smith, said the extreme conditions would have meant out-wintered, autumn-calving cows would have required higher energy intake than in previous years.

Mr Smith, a partner in cattle breeding technology company Ovaflo, based at Skene in Aberdeenshire, said the challenges created by the weather had apparently increased the risks of cows either not going in calf or embryonic death.

And he urged farmers to consider the lessons learned this year regarding the impact of weather on fertility and check the quality of rations and silage as well as considering the need to increase quantities and supplement with concentrates or straights, if this scenario was repeated.

Allan and Jack Adams became monitor farmers in 2007 and their three year term ends at the next, and final, meeting, which will be in early November.

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