Memorandum submitted by Turftrax Group
1.1 Turftrax Group Limited welcomes the
opportunity to submit evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs Committee inquiry on the Future of UK Agriculture:
Farming beyond subsidies? We recognise that the Committee
has now considered the majority of the evidence that has been
submitted to it and are therefore grateful to be given the opportunity
to submit at this late stage. Our submission will focus on the
role that TurfTrax believes it can play in promoting better stewardship
of agricultural land.
1.2 TurfTrax Group Limited is a high technology
business which was formed in 1997 to provide solutions, through
the application of new technologies, for improved soil management
practices in both agriculture and sports. TurfTrax is constantly
investing in research and development for the improvement and
advancement of our technologies. As part of this effort, TurfTrax
has established a formal working relationship with Cranfield University,
one of the pre-eminent universities in soil science.
1.3 TurfTrax Group Limited believes that
improved soil management practices and techniques, developed through
the application of new technologies, can lead to cost savings
to farmers, significant environmental benefits, and can contribute
to the long-term sustainability of the UK farming sector.
1.4 It has been an accepted fact that the
effectiveness of virtually all agricultural inputs is influenced
by soil structure and soil texture. However, in recent times precise
knowledge and management of soils have been ignored with farmers
preferring to homogeneously apply the latest fertilisers and fungicides
to their fields which increase crop yields exponentially. But
the technological advances in the genetic yield potential of varieties,
and the efficacy of fertilisers and fungicides which improved
crop yields so significantly, has dramatically slowed over the
past five years. As a consequence, TurfTrax Group Limited believes
that there is now a strong need to adopt techniques and practices
that can improve soil knowledge and management leading to greater
profitability, significant environmental benefits, and the long
term sustainability of the UK farming sector.
2. THE IMPORTANCE
2.1 The range and mix of soil structures
and textures prevalent in the UK is considerable and most farms
experience variability in one or both. Historically, such variability
was managed by broadly separating different areas with hedges
and approaching the cultivation and agronomy of the individual
fields on a case by case basis. However, in a modern agricultural
economy, cultivating tightly enclosed areas is not practical and
we have seen a progressive removal of field boundaries. Advances
in seed varieties, agro-chemicals and in the power of agricultural
equipment after the Second World War allowed UK farmers to enjoy
increasing yields across all their cultivated land. As a consequence,
this trend encouraged the accelerated destruction of boundaries
with little regard for long term profitability and environmental
concerns. However, gains from these sources have slowed and with
yields flattening it is now clear that the "one size fits
all" approach is increasingly wasteful in terms of the use
of resources and the effect on the environment.
3. THE DEVELOPMENT
3.1 The technologies and systems devised
by TurfTrax have established the capability to measure and define
soil structure and texture for each individual farm with outstanding
accuracy. Using non-invasive electromagnetic induction (EMI) scanning
systems enables the rapid identification of soil variability.
This is linked to a satellite positioning system (DGPS) which
enables TurfTrax to collect and profile soil data at an intensity
of 10,000 sample points per hectare. The richness and quality
of the data enables TurfTrax to create management plans and input
schedules tailored precisely to the specific and unique requirements
of each individual farm. This approach enables the farmer to target
applications precisely in line with the requirements of the land
and the capacity of the soil to make inputs available to the plant.
Inputs and applications which benefit from this approach include
ploughing; seed rate; nutrient application; herbicide and pesticide
application; compaction management; and drainage and irrigation
3.2 The economic benefits through improved
yields, reducing waste and highlighting specific areas more suited
for stewardship schemes, far outweigh the costs of operating the
system. Further, the process materially reduces or eliminates
the adverse environmental effects of excess applications of certain
chemicals and fertilisers, resulting in a reduction in problems
caused by leaching and "run off" of such substances
into water courses.
4.1 What is being described is the concept
of "Precision Farming", which has emerged over the past
five years. It is a term given to a method of crop management,
where different crop areas within fields are managed independently
of each other. "Precision Farming" means that farmers
seek to make more informed decisions on the targeting of the application
of seed, fertilisers and chemicals. By varying the application
rates of inputs at specific points in the field farmers can reduce
production costs and improve yield and grain quality. This approach
can also reduce or eliminate the adverse environmental effects
of excess applications of certain chemicals. At a time when farmers
are facing increased financial and environmental pressures "Precision
Farming" provides real solutions that can help to overcome
5. THE TURFTRAX
5.1 Precision Farming must, however, be
underpinned and informed by comprehensive soil mapping. Previous
methods aimed at producing an accurate analysis of the infield
variation are relatively slow, inaccurate and of only marginal
benefit from an economic perspective. In 1997, TurfTrax set out
to develop a method that would facilitate a faster, more accurate
and detailed measurement of the soil variability in a cost-effective
way that could underpin "Precision Farming" techniques.
The result was a technological device called MagnaScan, which
can scan soil with a unique degree of accuracy down to a depth
of 1.2 metres. By using the MagnaScan system, the farmer can precisely
assess the soil characteristics and adjust the use of inputs.
The system is non-invasive and highly cost effective. The validity
of the use of EMI scanning in agriculture was recently reviewed
in HGCA (Home Growth Cereals Authority) Project Report 267 published
in April 2002 which was the largest ever HGCA funded project investigating
the benefits of spatial management using advanced technology systems.
6.1 TurfTrax believe that it is necessary
to go beyond providing the mapped results from a precision scan.
Our agronomists provide a fully integrated service which enables
the farmer to enjoy the full benefits of "Precision Farming".
To this end, TurfTrax provides detailed advice on all the variable
inputs associated with the interpretation of the scanned field
maps, as well as providing advice on the practical application
of these variable inputs.
6.2 TurfTrax has made substantial investment
in the financial and technical resources that enable it to deliver
information quickly and accurately. The company has built its
own data transfer and logging systems. Scanned EMI data collected
from fields anywhere in the world can be transferred immediately
through cellular/satellite phone technology to the head office
in Bedfordshire, UK. Here the data is processed and analysed and
the information sent back to the operator in the form of a map
which defines the soil variations in the relevant field. The operator
is then able to take soil samples for analysis at precisely targeted
positions within the field. Once all the soil texture and nutritional
analysis has been completed a comprehensive report is produced
detailing nutritional, structural, and agrochemical recommendations
for the fields being assessed.
6.3 A member of the TurfTrax agronomy team
presents these recommendations to the farmer, helping to define
management zones on the ground. Alternatively, if the farm has
invested in "Variable Rate Application" equipment, TurfTrax
will provide data in the appropriate format. Once the initial
data is collected and maps produced, TurfTrax team members provide
updated recommendations year after year.
6.4 TurfTrax employs some of the UK's leading
soil scientists and all TurfTrax staff involved in gathering and
interpreting the data on soils, and providing the subsequent advice
and recommendations to the farmer are of the highest calibre,
in terms of practical farming knowledge and academic achievement.
6.5 This integrated approach to "Precision
Farming", based on detailed soil scanning and the identification
and measurement of variables, will continue to be developed by
TurfTrax through its comprehensive research and development programme.
TurfTrax believes that this approach makes the company unique
in the UK and Europe.
7. THE BENEFITS
7.1 The TurfTrax system provides specific
field and within field detail for the management of inputs, typically
seed, fertilisers, agrochemicals, irrigation water, lime and cultivations.
All these factors are either directly or indirectly related to
the texture and structure of the soil. Knowledge of soils and
the use of variable applications can have significant benefits
some of which have been demonstrated independently in the HGCA
|Nitrogen||Economic + Environmental Advantage
||Up to £20/ha|
|Seed Rate||Economic Advantage
||Up to £44/ha|
|Water Logging||Economic Penalty
||Up to £210/ha|
|P & K||Economic + Environmental Advantage
||Up to £60/ha|
||Up to £7/ha|
|Spreader Calibration||Economic Penalty
||Up to £180/ha|
||Up to £70/field
7.2 In a recent example, the TurfTrax MagnaScan system
was used to assess the soil type and structure and to analyse
soil samples for phosphate, potassium, and magnesium and for pH
levels. This was done in order to determine the correct applications
for the next two years' cropping plans at Farm A. Prior to the
use of the MagnaScan system, the farmer was planning to apply
granular fertiliser at a total (including application) cost of
£94.76 per hectare and lime at a cost of £47.27 per
hectare. Following the scan, analysis and subsequent recommendations
the cost of the new fertiliser programme over the two year period
was £22.81 per hectare and the revised lime application cost
was £24.76 per hectare. After the cost of delivery of the
initial scanning and the agronomy support, the total savings from
basic nutrients and lime equated to over £30 per hectare
per year. Going forward, TurfTrax will be working with Farm A
to identify savings across the full range of inputs and applications.
8.1 Farmers using advanced technology systems such as
TurfTrax MagnaScan have become by default more environmentally
friendly whilst aiming to make their businesses more sustainable.
By applying inputs with sensitivity and spatially to the requirements
of specific soils, some of the following environmental benefits
can be attained.
By applying fertilisers such as nitrogen and phosphate
spatially and according to the requirement of the crop and the
capacity of the soil to hold the nutrients, the leaching risk
into water courses is significantly reduced.
Spatial application of pesticides especially IPU
(isoproturon) and other residuals can be made to be more effective
and araes defined where their use would be unsuitable reducing
the risk of pesticide residues.
Defining non-profitable areas reduces operating
and input costs. Where these areas are no longer under cultivation
they could be put into wildlife conservation areas, again benefiting
By appropriately using cultivation equipment power
consumpton on specific soils, operating costs can be reduced and
less fuel emissions produced.
Areas even in organic situations where farm yard
manures are spread can be assessed for leaching and run off risks.
8.2 The use of such technologies will encourage farmers
to adopt responsible farming techniques and progress them into
a rapid move into the Good Farm Practice policies and objectives
set out in the Policy Commission Report, chaired by Sir Don Curry,
on the Future of Food and Farming. In particular, we welcome the
fact that the Commission has recognised the important role that
new technologies can play in the UK farming sector. We believe
that the service that TurfTrax is offering is entirely consistent
with the key recommendations contained in the report.
9 May 2002