Precision FarmingControl­ling preci­sion weeding with the Oper­a­tion Centre

The cloud-based Oper­a­tions Centre offers solid base func­tion­al­i­ties plus more than 180 third-party soft­ware prod­ucts to serve special require­ments. In the South West of France, one farmer has put this feature to the test.

While it may be keeping one boot firmly in the soil with its 330 ewes and its direct sale of farm-raised lambs, the private limited farm (EARL) of Ardilla is also home to some very high-tech agri­cul­ture. “We are now able to use vari­able rates for all our appli­ca­tions,” says Daniel Sous, who has been working on the family farm since 2012.

On the sandy soils of Landes, the Sous family culti­vates 400ha, 320 of which grow irri­gated maize with yields of 6.5-6.75t/ha. A great deal of time and resources have been invested to improve work accu­racy while reducing input costs.

Daniel Sous is pushing site-specific adapted weed control on his farm.

Yields have been mapped for six years, all machines are equipped with RTK guid­ance and section control is widely used. Only the intra-plot vari­ability still needs to be addressed. “We have just intro­duced vari­able rate seeding,” the young farmer reports. “We are in the process of mapping the soils so that we will soon be able to apply PK fertilisers as well as soil improvers at vari­able rates.” Another current project is preci­sion nitrogen appli­ca­tion. On the weed control side, following trials carried out with the support of his local dealer Agriv­i­sion, Mr Sous is on the verge of becoming one of the first French farmers to apply chem­i­cals at vari­able rates for weed control.

Over 180 third-party soft­ware prod­ucts

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For quite some time the Oper­a­tions Centre plat­form has been open to third-party soft­ware, in order to centralise digital tools for farmers and allow a smoother data exchange, while resolving compat­i­bility issues. More than 180 compa­nies are already offering their solu­tions via the “more tools” func­tion avail­able in the Oper­a­tions Centre. Recently, the Toulouse-based drone manu­fac­turer Delair inte­grated a weed recog­ni­tion service with weed control recom­men­da­tion maps.

Looking for a producer equipped with preci­sion tech­nology to test its new service, Delair approached the farm through the John Deere deal­er­ship. Always on the lookout for inno­v­a­tive solu­tions, Mr Sous did not hesi­tate for long. “We mostly have datura (part of the night­shade family), but our weed pres­sure is normal,” says Daniel. “We were able to take a chance and try it.”

As a result, the farm made 42ha avail­able for the trial. In coop­er­a­tion with Delair, they decided that vari­able rate spraying would be more effec­tive for the second herbi­cide appli­ca­tion. Following the first appli­ca­tion across the whole area, half was treated with a full dose at the four-leaf stage. At the same time, Delair flew its drone equip­ment over the remaining area.

Daniel Sous sends setup files and appli­ca­tion maps wire­lessly from the Oper­a­tions Center to his machines – once there, he then selects them for the field to be processed on the display. The machine adjusts the appli­ca­tion rates auto­mat­i­cally and depending on the loca­tion.

Section controlled spraying

The recom­men­da­tion arrived three days later, allowing time to process the data. “The map was imported into the Oper­a­tions Centre,” says Mr Sous. “The special feature is that it deter­mines the exact quan­tity to be applied. I ordered the product, filled the sprayer and left. After spraying, I was right on cue. There was no need for more or less spray.” The herbi­cide savings, compared to the area treated at full rate, was 50%. Never­the­less, at the time of harvest, 97% of the plot was clean. “Beyond the savings on active ingre­di­ents, we also have to take into account the time saved and the reduc­tion in diesel fuel,” the farmer points out.

I ordered the product, filled the sprayer and went. It was a perfect fit when I applied it.

Daniel Sous

Oper­a­tions Center

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Oper­a­tions Center

Alexis Janson, Delair’s agri­cul­ture and forestry engi­neer, wasn’t surprised by the result: “The trial was partic­u­larly successful,” he says. “We’ve been working on our algo­rithm for four years so the test at Mr Sous’s farm was mainly for demon­stra­tion purposes. It was also for us to see how the client expe­ri­enced the data processing chain and to eval­uate the effec­tive­ness of imple­menting the recom­men­da­tion with existing equip­ment.” Including the cost of the service (drone flight and data processing), Mr Janson esti­mates the average saving on the second herbi­cide appli­ca­tion in maize to be 30%.

Other trials are also being conducted in crops with narrower rows like oilseed rape, sugar beet and even cereals with “very encour­aging” results according to Delair. It believes that it will soon be able to offer an oper­a­tional service on these crops. Currently, the imaging is only capable of delin­eating the weed popu­la­tion in a block, but finer distinc­tions should be possible in the future. “The next step will be species differ­en­ti­a­tion. Our vision for the future is to be able to vary the dosage according to the plants. This will, however, require indi­vidual nozzle control.”

The Sous family: daughter Sarah, parents Clotilde and Laurent, and son Daniel (from left). In addi­tion to farming, the family keeps sheep of the Berri­chon de l’indre breed.

The envi­ron­mental issue

This is just one of the Sous family’s invest­ment projects. “The only thing we could have improved was the respon­sive­ness of the section control, because we were oper­ating with 3m sections,” says Mr Sous. “That’s where the missing 3% on weed control came from. That will get better as soon as we can control each nozzle indi­vid­u­ally.” The outcome of the test remains “very posi­tive,” he adds. “I am seri­ously consid­ering using this service in future. This will change the way we work on weed control.”

While the primary goal remains economy, the farmer is well aware of the sustain­ability and image issues. “Everyone knows we’re going to be asked to apply less product in the next few years, so we have to keep that in the back of our minds. The idea, under these condi­tions, is to main­tain the same weed control effi­ciency while saving costs.”

Tools adapted to needs

Ulrich von Stael, product marketing manager for AG Manage­ment Solu­tions at John Deere, empha­sises this: “This is just one of the solu­tions we offer in the Oper­a­tions Centre, but Delair is a partic­u­larly good example of how opening up this plat­form will enable us to offer our customers systems that are diver­si­fied and adapted to their needs.” As a result, users can customise the Oper­a­tions Centre by adding addi­tional func­tions to suit the day-to-day running of their farm.

“Any exchange of data between the Oper­a­tions Centre and the connected soft­ware compa­nies is fully controlled by the data owner, either manu­ally or by accepting an auto­matic data synchro­ni­sa­tion system,” says Mr von Stael. In addi­tion, it is expected that the number of soft­ware prod­ucts avail­able in the plat­form will increase rapidly by 2021: “More and more external service providers see the benefit of inte­grating their solu­tion into the MyJohn­Deere envi­ron­ment. In the end, the farmers are the winners.”