Cereals show focus shifts towards precision technology

At this year’s Cereals, the annual UK arable technology event, the focus shifted away from large, high-powered equipment towards the technology that tomorrow’s farmers are likely to be using, with manufacturers and importers of precision technology also seizing the opportunity to show visitors what is available to them today to help improve accuracy when applying inputs

Robots

Demonstrated by UK importer TRP, the French-made Carre Anatis field robot is an autonomous vehicle which can be used for inter-row mechanical weeding of crops such as sugar beet, vegetables and young maize plants, as well as collection of data such as plant counts using cameras and sensors. Powered by three batteries with a charge life of around four hours, the machine can be controlled via a smartphone or tablet computer, either of which will provide live camera views from the machine and real-time GPS data. Its wheels Guidance is via Trimble RTK GPS technology, with accuracy down to sub-2cm levels, while camera vision for weeding is provided by a Claas system, and this also works to stop the machine instantly should an obstacle be detected. The machine has 90 degree-rotating wheels for headland manoeuvrability with minimal crop damage. Three-point linkage-mounted tools can include a comb harrow or an inter-row how for up to four rows. Travel speed is approximately 4.0km/hr, and price paid by the first retail customers is France has been around £70,000.

Garford’s established range of Robocrop mechanical weeders, which incorporate vision guidance cameras, can now be had with an automatic section control system. Labelled the Tine Raiser, this system is controlled by a real time kinematic (RTK) level of GPS accuracy, which means plus or minus 2.5cm accuracy. This enables the tines to be automatically raised or lowered hydraulically at row ends/headlands, and works with machines up to 12m wide.
Hoeing equipment is installed in sections which each cover three 15cm rows, allowing each assembly to be raised out of or lowered into work. Manual control is also available.

Also new from Garford at Cereals was the Robocrop 4 Quick Touch, a new control terminal for the firm’s Robocrop weeders. By replacing the text used on the previous unit with symbols on the new one, the result is said to be an easier to navigate interface, while sub-menus are also quicker to get to. It’s possible to now use the controller with up to six cameras and precision-guided sections per machine. The new arrangement also offers the potential for the inter-row hoes with which it works to be used even in cereals sown at conventionally-spaced 12.5cm rows.

Drones

On the basis that a bird’s eye view often enables a more complete overall picture of a crop and field’s health to be gained, technology-minded UK arable farmers are increasingly turning to drone technology to give them this. However, drone do have wider potential, believes the management of one Norfolk business.

Run by farmer Chris Eglington, the Crop Angel company is trialling the Agras MG-1S, a drone capable of carrying not only a camera, but also a small spraying equipment arrangement. Ultimately, the idea is that this could allow remote aerial application of products to defined small areas. However, while in practice this is possible, there are a number of legal issues to overcome. In the coming months the firm hopes to clear these regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of further progress with the project, with plans including enhanced software, but lobbying to help legislators understand the low risks of the technology is still required.

The DJI Agras MG-1S drone which Crop Angel brings in to the UK model to the UK can be equipped with a spraying arrangement comprising a small tank and four nozzles. Trials using water suggest the air flow created by the rotor blades helps to improve crop canopy penetration for improved application success.

Also on display in the drone area at Cereals was the Storm Agri Pro, from Northumberland firm DroneAg. This multi-spectral drone has been custom-built for agricultural applications where data capture is the main aim, with sufficient battery time to cover 50ha in a flight. On-board data processing is via a multi-spectral Slant Range sensor, allowing fast transfer once the drone has finished its flight. A sunlight sensor allows the unit to accurately work with images taken on dull days as well as those with good light levels, while it is also possible to analyse crop height and, from this, calculate biomass levels.

Field sampling

Designed to improve accuracy in sampling for potato cyst nematode, the Phieldtek PCN 210 collects cores on the move, taking around 210 cores of soil from every hectare grid that it samples. These are guaranteed automated sample points, not points that are dictated by the operator, says Keith Mount Liming, the importer, which claims that this is over 400% more cores than a standard 49 core collection system. Also new from the firm at Cereals was the Veris U3 soil sensor from the USA. This is designed to provide maps for soil type, texture and organic matter content, using an electro-conductivity scanning method. Soil pH mapping can also be mapped at the same time if required. Additional data in the same pass is available for sand, silt and clay fractions, variable moisture, leach risk maps, slope and curve.

Mechanical weeding

With wide row spacings created by strip tillage aiding light penetration into crop canopies, but also opening up weed control challenges on the uncultivated strips, strip-till drill specialist Claydon says the latest introduction to its product line aims to help counter these and so take some pressure off demands made on herbicides.

The TerraBlade inter-row hoe adds a fourth element to the firm’s strip-till equipment range, complementing its harrows, drills and rolls. With a working width of 6m, the front linkage-mounted implement features rearward-angled tines with shallow-working points. These are designed to help enhance levels of weed control, counteract reductions in the efficacy of some current herbicides and reduce input costs, suggests the firm. It claims the TerraBlade is suited to use in any combinable crop which has been band-sown using a Claydon Hybrid drill. Band sowing at 300mm leaves a 140-150mm wide unseeded strip between the rows which can be mechanically hoed at around 20mm deep.

Watch the Carre Anatis autonomous field robot in action
Carre Anatis
The Carre Anatis autonomous field robot is an autonomous vehicle which can be used for inter-row mechanical weeding and data collection of data
The DJI Agras MG-1S drone has the potential to spot-apply herbicides to small areas of fields
The DJI Agras MG-1S drone has the potential to spot-apply herbicides to small areas of fields
Veris U3 soil sensor uses electro-conductivity scanning to create maps for soil type, texture and organic matter content
Veris U3 soil sensor uses electro-conductivity scanning to create maps for soil type, texture and organic matter content
Claydon’s TerraBlade is designed to allow inter-row weeding between band-sown cereals and other crops.
Claydon’s TerraBlade is designed to allow inter-row weeding between band-sown cereals and other crops