On the evening of the 28th February 2019 we attended the Getting Greener Grass event organised by the Soil Association Scotland. The speaker for the evening was Andre Van Barneveld of Graise Consultancy. The focus of the evening was managing grass growth for grazing of sheep and cattle. Our primary interest was identifying issues farm drones can solve in delivering aerial mapping information.
Having attended a few of the Monitor Farm events local to East Lothian we are beginning to build up a picture of the issues effecting farmers. Soil quality is the predetermining factor of any crop, be it grass, cereals or vegetables. There will be variation across any field or between farms based on their rotation schedule, soil type and subsoil structure. Soil sampling can identify the state of all the key elements such as organic matter, pH, N, P and K levels. Action can then be taken prior to growing season to top up these levels. Farm drones have little use at this stage untill the soil sampling stage is automated that is. However, aerial farm drones still provide a useful tool to quickly identify areas with issues to resample during the growing season.
Secondary environmental issues to any crop are soil temperature, sun and water. Too much or too little of each can have a dramatic effect or yield and risk disease. These issues are unpredictable year on year and subject to regional variation.
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For grass and crops the primary growth accelerant in initial stages the application of Nitrogen. Farm drones can’t provide an exact application amount but they can provide a highly detailed application map. This is of greater accuracy than soil mapping that relies on sample averaging over the field.
For grazing Andre made some interesting points on the use of Nitrogen that plants can become drug addicts relying on supplements rather than converting it themselves from the soil. For grass such stress can bring forward seeding early. We would make an argument for the closer inspection of grass and crops using multispectral imaging.
For the rotation of grazing paddocks there is opportunity for farming drones. Andre pointed out several times in his presentation the need to keep grass grazing in its sweet spot in terms of length 4cm. Too little grazing and grass will become taller and grazing or cutting at this height will place stress on the root to re-tiller the lower portion of stem. Animals will less likely graze on longer material and place stress on the more tender shoots by eating those. Alternatively, over grazing will minimised leaf size to a point where too little sun light is absorbed making it less nutritious and also damaging plants to the stage ground becomes muddy and rutted.
Andre advised having 20 day rolling paddocks. We think that farm drones could be useful here to identify when a paddock has reached its ideal grazed off level and the flock/herd should be moved to the next. The level will be determined by all the factors above, and so by the type, size and number of animals feeding across the area.
Skytech Aerial are now looking for farm partnerships to develop our technology further. More details of our agricultural monitoring services can be found here. If you would like a demonstration on how drone imaging can help your business please contact us today.