January 29, 2014
Leicestershire Business Makes SoilQuest Central to Contract Farming Agreements
At Glebe Farm, Saxelby near Melton Mowbray, father and son team Bill and Eric Wright are firm advocates of the greatest possible precision in soil mapping, texturing and analysis for their 1600 ha of cropping. To such an extent that, as well as their own ground, they insist on SoilQuest scanning and zoning all the land they farm on contract as part each new agreement they enter into.
J.N.Wright & Son – originally established by Bill’s father Jack as a dairy business just to the north of Leicester – grow mainly winter cereals and oilseed rape on their own land and under a variety of contract agreements across a wide area of north Leicestershire and south Nottinghamshire. The family is currently farming more than 30 separate parcels of land with a huge range of soil types.
“We had all the ground at Glebe Farm SoilQuested when we moved across from Rothley two years ago,” explained Eric. “Up to 2010 we’d been using a grid-based mapping system as the basis for variable rate fertilisation and sowing. Having seen the extra value of conductivity scanning on one of our contract farms, though, we’ve since made SoilQuest our standard. And, as laser soil texture analysis has been developed, we’ve rolled it out across our acreage.
“We need to rapidly get to grips with the ground we take on to deliver the best possible returns for ourselves and our contract partners. The complete picture scanning, laser texturing and soil analyses give us from the outset is invaluable in fine-tuning our immediate farming operations so we don’t have to rely on trial and error. It’s also allows us to look after soils better for the longer term – something our partners appreciate at least as much as we do.
“Understanding the actual variations in soil texture across our fields is enabling us to be very much more precise in our phosphate, potash and lime applications, in particular. Differences of 5% in clay content across a field may not seem much on the face of it. But accounting for them effectively in a fertilisation strategy can make a big difference; especially so when you’re managing a large acreage
“We base all our crop management on accurate zoning for what we’ve found to be very considerable soil variations, providing our contract partners with duplicate field maps for their own information. That way we both have a much better understanding of the potential of every piece of ground, and what is needed to make the most of it on a consistent basis.”
Bill and Eric work closely with John Lord and the SoilQuest team to vary all their P, K and lime inputs and seed rates carefully to the precisely zoned and soil-textured fields they now have. Major savings have been made in lime use, and applying phosphate and potash to the specific needs of each part of every field is paying dividends in improving performance. As are varying the seed rates of both their cereals and oilseed rape to soil status.
Together they’ve also been exploring other ways in which they can improve their management through the new on-line Agrii Precision Services portal. Linking all their input records with yield mapping, for instance, is allowing them to produce field gross margin maps. At the same time, they’re looking at calculating machine work rates by soil zone to improve planning and operations. And they’re integrating a newly installed automatic weather station on their furthest Nottinghamshire unit into the system for even greater local precision in their agronomy.
“The more we work with the Agrii system the more we see just what can be done through the extra precision we have in both our fieldwork and record-keeping,” Eric said.
“One block of ground we took on recently turns out to have a much higher clay content in many areas than we’d originally thought which we’ve been able to account for in our management from Day 1. Equally, knowing we made margins of over £800/ha from wheat in some parts of a field against less than £500/ha from others last year is giving much more focus to our future planning.
“The investment we’re making in the premium service is well worth it. The scanning only has to be done once to give us maps we can use over many years. Regular re-analysis of soils across the zones identified through scanning for N, P, K, pH. Mg and S and key micro-nutrients means we can see exactly what progress we are making as well as varying our inputs for the greatest value.
“We have no doubt precision agronomy based on the best possible understanding of our soils is the way ahead,” he concluded. “We’ve given-up managing in fields to concentrate on managing by soil zones. It’s an approach we’ll be building on increasingly in the future to make the most of the exciting opportunities offered by the latest precision technologies supported by the best decision support services.”