“It would be very difficult to farm this variable land without an N-Sensor. It’s a marvelous tool for us”
Farmer: J E Porter Ltd, Naveby, Lincs – 10 years with the N-Sensor
Supplier and Author: Chris Mason, Precision Decisions Ltd
Whilst at Cereals 2017, Graham Porter and his son James met me on the YARA stand where I was exhibiting the N-Sensor, and introducing it to prospective customers. In a short conversation with them both, Graham emphatically stated the N-Sensor has “Transformed our Business”. I needed to know more and suggested that a visit to their operation would be very useful.
Less than a week later, I returned to Lincolnshire to meet with Tom Newton, the main operator of the N-Sensor and his father Ken.
Porters are well known for their animal feed products, having manufactured feed for poultry and pigs for over 30 years. They run an extensive livestock operation, which acts as a test facility for any ideas or technical developments designed to improve the performance or welfare of stock. A large arable farming business of 3000 acres complements the integrated approach adopted by the business.
HISTORIC IN-BUILT VARIABILITY
Their livestock operation produces a great amount of muck, rich in nitrogen. For the last 30 years, their chicken litter and pig muck has been liberally applied across their arable land, often as a first and second dressing.
For the first 15 years or so, the spreading of this FYM was contracted out. This often resulted in a very uneven application, and built up additional spatial variability in the soils compounding the natural variability present from a wide variety of soil types.
In-field soil types vary from light blown sands to heavy blue clays. After many years of this practice, there was a high build up of residual nitrogen content, and this was only compounded by the blanket application of N throughout the growing season.
EXTREMELY VARIABLE CROP GROWTH
Over the years, these practices led to extremely variable crop growth. Particular problem areas were headlands and large areas, where old muck heaps had been sat, along with fields local to the core farm. Not really having any accurate idea as to how much N was available to the plants, along with the blanket application of N on dressings subsequent to the FYM dressings, led to the over application of N and subsequent problems associated with lodging and uneven crop growth in many areas.
INTRODUCTION OF THE YARA N-SENSOR
In 2007, as the arable farm was growing in size through the acquisition of more land, Graham Porter had discussions with Clive Blacker of Precision Decisions. Afterwards, Graham decided that the farm needed to address these problems.
They took the muck spreading operations in house, using their own Bunning spreaders, and decided to lease their first N-Sensor (the Passive model) continuing with this until 2015.
It soon became apparent that the N-Sensor could deal with the extremely variable N levels within the crops in a far superior way to any ‘on the hoof’ manual control of the nitrogen rate from the spreader. The Passive N-Sensor, in terms of its agronomic algorithms, is virtually identical to the ALS (Automatic Light Source). However because it can only be used in ambient light conditions when the sun is higher than about 25degrees above the horizon, this results in a tight operating window in the early part of the year. On smaller farms with sufficient time this is not a problem, but for larger operations this can be quite a problem.
YARA developed and introduced the ALS N-Sensor in 2005 as a solution to restricted working hours due to low light levels. The Xenon light source within the ALS allows it to operate irrespective of ambient light conditions, even in complete darkness.
A CHANGE TO THE ALS “A MARVELLOUS TOOL FOR US”
In 2015, the Porters decided that the productive land had grown to such an extent that the Passive N-Sensor was no longer suitable. They then upgraded to the ALS model. This then gave the main operator, Tom Newton, unlimited application time.
Tom is now a total convert to the N-Sensor and said that “It would be very difficult to farm this variable land without an N-Sensor. It’s a marvelous tool for us”
The N-Sensor is presently mounted on a Class Axion 850, with a new Amazone ZATS spreader, spreading at 24m controlled by an Amatron 3. Prefering to spread their Urea at 24m, as this fits well with their practice of spreading FYM at 12 or 24m, Tom feels that to spray their N from their Agrifac sprayer at 48m would be too wide a spread.
MODES and YIELDS
The favoured application mode is Target Mode, rarely using the Absolute Mode for OSR. Tom, along with John Youles (their Agronomist) feel that the Absolute Mode can ‘push the application too far’ and prefers the finer control that Target Mode gives him on OSR. On WW and WB, they make 3 Target applications and SB only 2. All these applications take place after an initial pre or post emergence dressing of their abundant supplies of FYM.
The typical rotation of crops is 1400ac of WW, 1000ac of OSR and 300ac each of WB and SB.
Last year (2016), the reduced yield came in at around 5 t/Ha for OSR and around 12.5 t/Ha for WW. The figures for the better season of 2015, were 6.00 t/Ha (OSR) and 14.3 t/Ha (WW) with Spring Barley returning 9 – 10 t/Ha, “A wonderful yield” according to Tom.
Overall, the Porters and Tom Newton are convinced that the N-Sensor along with the application of growth regulators, has increased yields in poor areas whilst holding back the more fertile areas. It has had the result of ironing out variation and massively reducing lodging, which leads to a much improved combining process at the end of the season.