Opti­mize, improve and become more effi­cient

The Spanish farmer Jorge Prieto prac­tices arable farming and faces the chal­lenge of working effi­ciently with fewer resources in the current situ­a­tion. He is already doing this success­fully in the different phases of the agri­cul­tural produc­tion cycle.

We came to the province of Palencia, in northern Spain, in the region of the munic­i­pality of Osorno La Mayor, where we were greeted by Jorge Prieto, a fourth-gener­a­tion family farmer. Here, crops are grown at an alti­tude of 800 to 920m above sea level. Irri­gated agri­cul­ture is constantly expanding, but most of the fields are still dedi­cated to exten­sive crop raising without irri­ga­tion – such as wheat, barley, sunflower, oats, trit­i­cale, vetch, and rape­seed.

Since last spring, the situ­a­tion has completely changed.

Jorge Prieto

It’s sunflower harvest season. This year, this harvest will take more time than usual, because of the war in Ukraine, which has led to an increase in the area sown with this crop. The events of last spring have required a modi­fi­ca­tion in plans for this season. One of these changes involved an increase in sunflower cultivation. As is the case in other regions of Spain, with the green light from the govern­ment, some of the fields, which were planned to remain fallow, have been planted with sunflower. Thus, the farmers hope to increase their income, because this year, the sunflower fields will yield more.

This year, more sunflowers are grown than usual. This is due to the war in Ukraine.

This should lead to higher sales in Spain, as prices are rising signif­i­cantly.


They have long been able to count on the advice of Víctor Sánchez-Girón, professor at the Poly­technic Univer­sity of Madrid and a recog­nised expert in the field of mech­a­nised agri­cul­tural produc­tion. With his help, this family of farmers began to exper­i­ment and imple­ment changes in their agri­cul­tural work. These improve­ments have proved their useful­ness in increasing the prof­itability of the oper­a­tion, and have also served to facil­i­tate adap­ta­tion to the current circum­stances.

A funda­mental aspect of these two elements is that the machines are adapted to the needs of the farm, as well as the use of equip­ment being adapted to each tractor, explain Jorge and Víctor.

To use a very powerful tractor with under­size equip­ment, means wasting the invest­ment made for the tractor.

Víctor Sánchez-Girón

In order to save on fuel, it is essen­tial that the combi­na­tions of tractor and equip­ment are correctly imple­mented. Both men agree: “To use a very powerful tractor with under­size equip­ment, means wasting the invest­ment made in the tractor.And using a small tractor with over­size equip­ment, makes the tractor run at full speed, thus consuming too much fuel.”

Jorge Prieto and Victor Sánchez-Giron know that with the right pres­sure they can preserve the tyres and reduce the amount of fuel needed.

They also try to opti­mise their expen­di­ture on tyres, as well as fuel, by adjusting tyre pres­sure according to the working condi­tions. “We lower the pres­sure to 1.5 bar for work in the fields. While for driving on the road, we increase it to 2.5 bar,” explains Jorge.

Soil Work

For some crops, the farmers have been using direct seeding for over 30 years, but currently, they are mostly doing minimal tillage, using special equip­ment that combines culti­vator, cage-type roller, and harrow. This allows them to achieve signif­i­cant savings in diesel fuel use, because it only requires one pass to have the soil ready for seeding. The oper­a­tions for minimal tillage and direct seeding are a little less numerous than those requiring conven­tional tillage, but prof­itability is better, because the farmer achieves lower overall costs. And, together with crop rota­tions, the differ­ence in produc­tivity, compared to conven­tional tillage, is even smaller.

Here, the machines are adapted to the farm’s needs – attach­ments match the respec­tive tractor.

Another impor­tant aspect of soil prepa­ra­tion is to till it at just the right time – a method that also saves on fuel costs. Jorge explains: “Before, we didn’t pay much atten­tion to the condi­tion of the soil, so the tractor engine often ran at 1800-1900rpm.Now we work the soil when its mois­ture content is most suit­able, and so we manage to main­tain a speed of 1300-1400rpm on the engine, with the corre­sponding fuel savings that this brings.”


FFor seeding, one measure they have adopted is to reduce the rate. “We used to sow 250kg per hectare for crops such as barley and wheat, but for the past few seasons we decided to reduce this figure to 210kg/seed/ha, and we have found that this was to our advan­tage.”

Modern machines are of enor­mous help, but to get the most out of them, they need to be set up perfectly.

Jorge Prieto

The use of seed drills for direct seeding also contributes to a reduc­tion in fuel require­ment. “Modern machines are of enor­mous help, but to get the most out of them, they need to be set up correctly. Regard­less of the type of seeder used, it is essen­tial that the machine is well main­tained and cali­brated, so that the seeding is correctly performed,” add Jorge and Víctor.

Wheat, barley, trit­i­cale, but also oats: the crop rota­tion includes some cereals. However, the total cereal area has been reduced in favour of legu­mi­nous crops.

Fertil­izer Spreading

Previ­ously, it was normal to apply fertiliser twice during the crop cycle. One appli­ca­tion was made before seeding and another when the crop had started to develop. Now, they use a slow-release fertiliser in one oper­a­tion, and a spreader with section cut-off, which spreads the fertiliser more effi­ciently. The fertiliser is spread in a single pass with a centrifugal spreader. The fertiliser itself is complex and contains an ammo­ni­acal stabiliser, which releases its nitrogen content little by little, leaving a small amount imme­di­ately avail­able to the plant.

Jorge Prieto was able to reduce his harvesting costs.

With the war, the fertiliser prices tripled. So, the farmers decided to reduce the dose. Whereas, they used to spread 500kg/ha, this figure is now 350kg/ha. They also use cheaper and less concen­trated fertilisers. Instead of 12-24-16, they now use 8-15-8. This helps them to reduce fertiliser costs.

Now we sow a lot of legumes, because these don’t need fertil­izer.

Jorge Prieto

And there are crops where they do not use fertiliser, for example vetch, which is a legume that they have sown more of this year. “Now we sow a lot of legumes because these don’t need fertiliser.  Another form of fertiliser saving – is to include more vetch in the crop rota­tion,” says Jorge.

Intro­ducing a crop of legumes, in rota­tion with cereals, helps main­tain soil fertility, as legumes fix between 70 and 80% of the nitrogen they consume from the atmos­phere thanks to bacteria that live, in symbiosis, in their root nodules.

Tradi­tion­ally, the main crops in their rota­tions were wheat, oats, trit­i­cale and vetch. This year they have increased the cultivation of vetch and sunflower, at the expense of the others, and they are also consid­ering including rape­seed in their crop rota­tion, as it adapts well to the region’s soils.

Crop Protec­tion

“Our biggest problem is weeds,” says Jorge. “And the total cost, of the herbi­cides that we use, has doubled. To alle­viate the problem, this year we are signif­i­cantly adjusting the dose.” They went from applying three litres/ha to 2.5 litre in most fields. They apply the maximum dose only occa­sion­ally.

This year, we are adjusting herbi­cide doses much more.

Jorge Prieto

And to save even more herbi­cide, they plan to use reverse rota­tion tilling and change the rota­tions, increasing the share of less weedy crops, such as sunflower.


During harvest,the main objec­tive is to increase effi­ciency, in terms of machine use, labour hours and fuel,explains Víctor. So they have invested in more powerful combines with larger hoppers, and trailers that can accom­mo­date larger volumes. “All this allows us to reduce harvesting costs per kilo harvested,” notes Víctor.

The company also offers services to other farmers: Here the job is to get rid of weeds in a poplar plan­ta­tion.


Another way to improve the farm’s prof­itability, is to diver­sify, in order to generate other sources of income. For several years now, they have been offering their services to other farmers in the region, mainly in the poplar plan­ta­tions. This region of the province of Palencia is home to many poplar fields, on the river­banks.

“Working in woody crops, such as poplar groves, allows us to generate income all year round,” says Jorge. To keep the plan­ta­tions free from weeds, they go between the trees with 30 or 26 inch (75 or 65cm) disc harrows, taking advan­tage of the machines they already have.

When asked if there is a future in agri­cul­ture, their answer is clear: “Of course there is. The key is to opti­mise, improve and become more effi­cient.”