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Over the next 10 years we are facing a faster rate of change in the agricultural sector that most of us will remember. Change always presents opportunities and being prepared to embrace and use these opportunities to drive results is recognised as a core attribute of those who are the most successful.

What ingredients are needed to support change? Well the usual suspects of embracing technology, seeking the best advice, sharing and working with others, looking forwards not backwards and taking calculated risks are a given.

However one opportunity at the moment is to take a step forward in technology which is promoted within the Governments rural productivity small grants scheme. The scheme provides 40% savings on a wide range of items – precision farming equipment being in the mix, but with a short deadline to act before 3rd September 2019.

So why precision farming technologies? Aside from the obvious wins of having straight lines in fields and being able to look at what your equipment is doing in the ground rather than concentrating on looking ahead (to get that straight line!), there is an increasing number of emerging benefits in precision farming applications. Three that I believe are increasingly important are:

1.    The efficient use of scarce resources

We live in an age where we have too much of some things and not enough of others. In both cases effectiveness of usage is important. This might be;

  • To make a scarce resource go further – e.g. fuel
  • To ensure opportunity costs are realised – e.g. reducing labour time on one activity that can then be directed to another activity
  • Reducing wastage – e.g. fine-tuning fertiliser input to the crop potential
  • To focus on techniques and activities that maintain and build the quality of our scarce resources such as; organic soil matter improvement and water conservation

In most cases efficiencies with physical resource usage will result in economic efficiencies that translate into better bottom line returns (profit!). With the dramatic changes ahead in the way agriculture is supported, these efficiencies must be on the radar of all farmers.

2.    Making choices

I am sure we all sometimes feel that we are in danger of data and information overload – what we all need is the right data to aid making the right choices or to assess the effectiveness of those choices.   

With the changes ahead, having real time and historical information that relates to individual farms, fields and part fields will be important to provide evidence in decision making. This may be around intra-field variable applications of inputs (fertiliser, seed, spray based on yield monitoring and soil analysis), system changes (buying a no till drill) or working increasingly with others (machinery or share farming options).   

3.    Supporting environmental uptake and compliance

Contributing factors for some landowners deciding not to continue with schemes is often a fear of the inspection and the potential for non-compliance penalties.

As we move forward, I hope that the new Natural Capital regime will have a better balance towards payment by results rather than payments against a rather inflexible management prescription. It’s unlikely, however, that the requirements for compliance and reporting will disappear. The opportunities to apply precision farming technologies in this space are huge – to ensure that buffers, strips, plots, part fields, wet areas, trees, recreational areas are managed effectively (same basis as effective use of scarce resources). The initial identification of the best targets for environmental and natural capital schemes, and the choices within, can be underpinned by data at farm level.         

My big message in the above is around being better prepared for change using multi year and real time evidence. The small grant scheme offers some opportunities to achieve this through the ability to purchase precision farming equipment items.

For some, the small grant scheme offers the opportunity to enter the GPS and auto steer arena for the first time. This will allow land areas and specific field characteristics to be measured and will drive resource efficiencies. For others an upgrading of existing technologies could improve accuracy, usability or integration with other technologies. For others, system changes can be catalysed, adopting a no till system may be part of preparing to build soil organic matter as part of future carbon planning.

In a world of uncertainty the ability to build resilience is key. Physical and economic resilience are inextricably linked and are usually driven by evidence. Let’s take the opportunity to capture and then pick and choose data that works for us to build that evidence and understand our farming businesses better.

Do take a look at the precision farming and other offers within the small grant scheme and do contact your local Brown&Co office for further information.