Farm turns to Omnia to build sustainable future
Covering 800 ha near Framlingham, Tuckwell Farms aims to become a “centre of excellence” through the use of the best agronomic practices, and the latest in precision technology, which now includes the Omnia digital farming platform.
The business started using Omnia in 2022, when part of the farm was also mapped with TerraMap’s high definition soil analysis, replacing other soil testing used previously. By this summer, half of the farm will have been TerraMapped.
“Five to six years ago, our adoption of precision farming was mainly limited to basic yield mapping and guidance on the combine, plus auto-shutoff on the sprayer, but that has stepped up considerably in the last few years,” says farm manager, Kris Grzelak.
Omnia is now being used for all precision mapping, for preparing manure, soil, and nutrient management plans, and for planning NVZ / manure risk maps and no-spread zones. “Omnia is very thorough; it’s Environment Agency compliant, and has been a real help to us. We apply a reasonable quantity of bought-in manures and biosolids, so from that perspective Omnia has been particularly helpful and quite effortless really.”
The farm has also recently joined the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), part of which requires farms to assess and monitor soils and organic matter. “It’s one of the reasons we had Terramap analysis done, as we were keen to benchmark organic matter to compare future improvements against. We’ll also use Omnia to store the VESS assessments required under the SFI soils standard.”
Bringing data together
The ability to analyse multiple layers of soil, crop, and yield data within Omnia is proving very useful for Mr Grzelak, as the farm continues its transition to a more regenerative approach, based on low-tillage, controlled traffic, establishing most crops with the John Deere 750A drill.
“It’s about bringing a range of data together to give answers as to why certain parts of fields perform better than others. It’s often not just down to one single thing; it can be a combination of several factors that are responsible.”
All machines run on RTK guidance for repeatability, and while it is not quite a full CTF system, the aim is to control traffic movements as much as possible.
The John Deere operations centre is used for storing RTK boundaries, guidance, and machine management, and works really well with the Omnia platform, Mr Grzelak notes.
“All of our application plans are created in Omnia, then sent wirelessly to the machines. It’s very seamless.”
He acknowledges the move to low tillage on the predominantly clay loam soil has been challenging at times, and some additional cultivations have been reintroduced where necessary, alongside a focus on improving drainage infrastructure.
“Drainage is one of the biggest issues on the farm. We’ve found that poor drainage in a low-till system has affected our bottom line more than the cost of doing a small amount of cultivation.”
Tuckwell Farms therefore recently invested in its own drainage equipment, and became a distributor for T3RRA drainage software. “We’re now designing and implementing our own drainage schemes at greatly reduced cost - providing another ‘layer’ of information in Omnia. It’s our only way forward if we want to pursue a low-till cultivation regime, which won’t work without decent drainage.
“While we want to pursue a more regenerative approach and reduce our carbon emissions as much as we can, the farm still has to be profitable. We did find that reducing tillage very quickly affected our bottom line, so felt it was necessary to go ‘back to basics’ and be more flexible with cultivations.”
Once the basics of good drainage are in place, more attention can be given to fine-tuning agronomy through approaches such as variable seed and fertiliser applications, Mr Grzelak says.
Soil type and texture maps are generally used as the basis for creating variable rate seed maps, although these are refined in Omnia using field knowledge, historical yield data, and other factors, such as known slug or pest pressure.
“We’re able to use a lot of different layers as a tool to create the right map, not just soil type. We can overlay any data we want really, whether that’s yield maps, or work rate and fuel usage maps from the JD ops centre, to identify potential problem areas.
“There’s a multitude of data you can utilise, and once you start to overlay different layers of information, it gives you some really good answers as to why fields behave in certain ways.”
Variable rate nitrogen applications have also been tried this season. “I’ve always seen it as the icing on the cake; you need the basics right first. If a field is turning yellow because of poor drainage, putting more nitrogen on isn’t the answer.”
Mr Grzelak says creating and using variable application maps in Omnia has been very simple, and although some time is needed to first set things up, once done, it is very quick and easy to adjust maps for individual fields or seasons.
All machinery at Tuckwell Farms is either John Deere or Vaderstad, and uses ISOBUS technology to transfer data through the standard 4600 CommandCenter, plus extended monitor - the Vaderstad control unit also runs through the JD system.
Compatibility between machines and Omnia has been seamless, with no issues transferring data in either direction, Mr Grzelak notes.
Currently, Gatekeeper is used for recording the farm’s business / input management information, however in future, he hopes to streamline the use of technology, with a ‘keep it simple’ approach, built around Omnia as a central hub for all business and crop management information, and the JD operations centre for machine management.
“The fewer software platforms we can use to manage our farm, the better.”
He also plans to use Omnia to help target stewardship measures when the existing CSS Mid-Tier agreement expires in December 2023.
“We designed the current agreement around yield maps, and known problem areas, so when that comes to an end, we will use Omnia to target the areas going into the new agreement.”
Mr Grzelak recognises the potential benefits of Terramap and Omnia for carbon mapping and auditing too.
“We’re not really carbon mapping yet, although have started assessing our carbon footprint. Carbon may well be the next step for the business to look at more closely.”
Mapping Nitrogen Use Efficiency
This harvest, Tuckwell farms is installing a JD harvest lab on the combine to measure grain protein on the move. The idea is to use this data to map variations in grain protein straight off the combine, and then use Omnia to analyse this information alongside yield, and nitrogen application maps, to create an overall nitrogen use efficiency map for the whole field.
“This should give us a lot more answers as to why a field might be behaving in a certain way. It might be that we’ve got lower protein because we’ve got higher yields, or if there’s poor NUE, is it because there’s no drainage scheme, or poor drainage on that part of the field?
“We all know yield is a very good indicator as to what’s happening across a field, but NUE is also a very good indicator of other underlying issues that you may have. It’s the benchmark as to how your crop is performing.”
Data will be collected this summer, and the aim is to develop the NUE mapping by the autumn.
Tuckwell Farms, Framlingham, Suffolk
- 800 ha farmed area (including 50 ha of Countryside Stewardship - wild flower margins and winter bird feed)
- Predominantly clay loam soil
- Range of crops grown - wheat (mainly feed), oilseed rape, parsley, beans/ peas
- Cover crops grown ahead of spring-sown crops
- Mostly low tillage approach to cultivations
- All John Deere or Vaderstad equipment
- Started using Omnia and TerraMap in 2022
For more information, please visit: https://omniadigital.co.uk/