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Sensing technology assists in crop nutrition strategies

SA grower Mark Branson is hosting Future Farm 2 trials looking at how intelligent sensing technology can optimise nitrogen inputs.
Photo: GRDC

Nuffield scholar adopts sensing technology to help plan nitrogen use.

Intelligent sensing technology to optimise nitrogen inputs will drive future profits on-farm and provide environmental benefits, according to South Australian Future Farm 2 trial host, Mark Branson.

The Stockport farmer avidly supports intelligent sensing research, having explored the technology in 2005 as a GRDC-sponsored Nuffield scholar and host to a 94-hectare nitrogen sensing trial.

This research is very important for our business, given that nitrogen is one of our most expensive inputs and such a key input for high yields, he says.

If this technology can help optimise nitrogen inputs for every part of the paddock to maximise our returns, it will be the key to driving future profits.

Also, applying optimum rates of nitrogen - rather than excess rates - will produce environmental benefits that could make Australian grain more attractive on the world stage if marketed correctly.

If this technology can help optimise nitrogen inputs for every part of the paddock to maximise our returns, it will be the key to driving future profits. - South Australian grower Mark Branson

The Future Farm 2 trial on Mr Branson's property features two large nitrogen-rich strips and two zero nitrogen strips in GPS positioned areas of the paddock.

Sensors scan the paddocks at key times of crop development to determine if nitrogen is becoming limiting from early applied nitrogen and soil reserves.

A protein sensor on the harvester maps out crop protein at harvest. This information was merged with accurate yield maps to determine nitrogen removal and build a picture of whether nitrogen application was adequate or not to build future recommendations.

Valuable information for development of the sensing technology also comes from historical and current data from the host farm, including deep soil nitrogen tests, soil moisture probes, weather forecasts, rainfall, and yields.

For Mr Branson, the data includes information collected from his own on-farm nitrogen trials, which feature nitrogen-rich strips.

His trials include use of a handheld NVDI scanner at key times of the crops life to provide data to support decision making around variable rate applications.

Mr Branson believes the data collected from sensors will support, rather than replace, human decision making around nitrogen applications.

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