Using technology to reduce N and optimise planting rate

New technology is being put to full use to show that reduced use of fertiliser and fine-tuning seed spacings can save money while increasing potato yields, in trials at the AHDB’s SPot Farm, at Meigle in Scotland.

Working with Scottish based hi-tech specialists, Soil Essentials, a range of measures – including satellite imaging and radar technology – have been used to evaluate how crops have been growing and how they respond to different regimes on the SPot farm.

Claire Hodge, AHDB’s potato specialist and a Nuffield scholar who majored in the seed potato supply chain, said there was a ready access now to equipment and data, but that it wasn’t always clear about what to do with the results.

“So we’ve been looking at what technology can be used to zone in on what’s the crop’s doing, using technology to help make management decisions to help manipulate the ultimate aim of yield and quality,” she said at a recent open day.

“In our nitrogen application trials, we really thought at the start that we could get the same yield by reducing nitrogen in some fields – but we have actually shown that reducing N can also lead to better yields in some areas which have inherent high organic matter in the soil.”

Seed spacing trials at Bruce Farms have also shown that high value crops, such as salad potatoes, can be greatly influenced by tweaking rates. At the site, salad potatoes are an important crop for the business and increasingly variable seed spacing is being used to manipulate the percentage of crop which will hit the right spec’.

However, it is a delicate balancing act between total field yield and getting the packout percentages right for the eventual customer, admitted Bruce Farms’ manager, Kerr Howatson. Basically, wider seed spacing produces greater yield, but not necessarily the best packout yields for certain spec’s. 

Read the full report in The Scottish Farmer