Zoom in on Precision Farming in The Netherlands

How One Farmer Improved Yields, Reduced Costs and Diminished His Farm’s Environmental Footprint

One farmer’s passion for precision farming increased his farm’s crop yields, and even drew the attention of European Royalty. We were lucky to speak with this farmer recently so he could share his story. 

Jacob Van Den Borne and his brother Jan own a farm in the southern part of The Netherlands that was founded in 1952, stretches over 140 fields, and has a total acreage of 450 Ha, mainly growing potatoes, sugar beets and corn. As a third generation in farming, when the Van Den Borne brothers took over their family farm in 2006, they decided it was time to make some changes that would make the farm more efficient, improve yields and reduce its environmental footprint. They turned to precision agriculture, and have not only revolutionized their own farm, but have eagerly shared their experience and knowledge with others, to become true thought leaders in the field. 

Precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to variability in crops to achieve greater efficiency and yields. 

“Precision farming is taking the correct actions, at the correct locations, at the correct timing,” Mr. Van Den Borne explained. As a pioneer in this field, Mr. Van Den Borne has created his own cycle for precision farming, which he has outlined on the farm’s website. “There is no average, every spot needs its own cultivation.” 

By using modern tools such as drones, GPS and sensors, the brothers can plan and execute their farming activities in a precise way. The fields are carefully mapped for differences in the soil, such as moisture and resistance. For example, irrigation sensors are used to measure soil moisture, enabling potato plants to receive the precise irrigation they need at the time they need it. 

“I apply irrigation only when the measurement tells me to; knowledge is gained by measuring,” Mr. van den Borne said. 

These exact measurements allow for optimum planting, irrigation, and fertilization to be done for each area of the field. Through the use of these advanced methods, the Van Den Bornes ultimately save time, energy, product waste, and reduce their farm’s CO2 emissions. 

Several specific innovations have enabled protection of the environment, such as eliminating overlap on the spraying machine through section adjustment. This not only reduces the farm’s environmental footprint, but saves around 13% on costs for crop protection products. Another improvement was the purchase of a tool which allows switching spraying nozzles on and off. This enables spraying to be crop specific, saving time and effort for the farmer, and reducing pollution. 

As a direct result of implementing these developments, the Van Den Bornes have been able to increase their potato yield from 46ton/ha to 53 ton/ha over a seven year period, a 15% increase. 

The Van Den Bornes leadership in precision agriculture has brought them to share their knowledge about precision farming in projects such as E-Optima, HigHtecH-sensing, Practical network, Fieldcopter, CloudFarm, Unifarm and PL. 

As the first farm to apply precision farming in The Netherlands, the farm was showcased for the Queen of The Netherlands, who wished to see this cutting edge enterprise. Mr. Van Den Borne also works extensively with students in order to spread the knowledge of precision farming broadly, and offers tours of his farm, where he demonstrates his activities in precision farming. He has also been written about widely in the agricultural press. The Van Den Borne brothers’ devotion to precision farming and to disseminating it to others is laying the groundwork for these efficient and environmentally sustainable practices be adopted by today and future generations.

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