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OptRx field trials underway in Europe

by May 5, 2010International Perspectives

Lettuce planting in Cambridgeshire, UK

Well, spring has finally sprung over here!  It seems to have been a long time coming because of an extended winter, but there is no doubt it is here now.  Even as I write this it is 17°C (62°F) which is positively warm for the UK!

Along with the warmer and drier weather comes an increase in field activity. Over the last few weeks spring crops have been sown, fields are being ridged, de-stoned and planted with potatoes, maize is being planted under plastic and winter sown crops are being fertilised.  This last point bring me to the subject of this week's post: crop sensors.

While this technology has improved, it is not new.  I was personally involved in field scale and plot trials for a particular crop sensor back in the late 90's whilst living in the US. But as most of you are aware, Ag Leader has been working on its own crop sensor (developed in part by Holland Scientific), and OptRx was released in November.  As part of marketing a global product and conducting research for worldwide use,  Ag Leader has also been undertaking trials for OptRx sensors around the world.  I have listed below some of those whom we have been involved with.

Maria Orio a student from Spain helps with OptRx plot trials in Scotland.

United Kingdom

The trial was organised and conducted by Damien Hartley of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS).  ADAS is extensively involved with research into the optimum use of nitrogen on crops in the UK and conducts commercial research for government and grower groups.  They are acknowledged experts on wheat physiology in the UK. Further trials are also being carried out in Scotland by Soil Essentials on Ag Leader's behalf.


This trial was conducted by Hans Oestergaard of the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service.  This Danish government organisation recommends nitrogen application strategies to all Danish farmers which they are obliged to follow by law to reduce nitrogen pollution.


The Polish trial was undertaken by Dr. Stanislaw Samborski from The University of Warsaw.


The Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) has been funded by the Grains Research and Development Council for Austrailia (GRDC) to review crop sensing in Austrailia.  In addition, the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture is conducting a trial in New South Wales.  FAR is conducting trials on their own small plot sites in Canterbury, located in the South of New Zealand.  In addition, NZ Centres for Precision Agriculture have trial sites at Palmerston North on the North Island.

Plot trials were carried out during 2009 at all these locations and have continued in 2010. But also during 2010, we have been carrying out field scale trials in the UK and some other European countries to assess the real-world benefits of this type of system as well as to gain customer feedback. This is our way of linking the academic research that is being undertaken to the commercial sector where ultimately these sensors will be used.

One of the locations that are doing field scale trials for Ag Leader happens to be not far from where I live in the UK. J.J. and T.W. Morley farm approximately 460 ha (1140 ac) of land in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.  Land is predominantly split 50-50 between winter wheat and OSR (oil seed rape, also known as canola), but there is 40 ha (100 ac) of field beans thrown into the mix.

Spreading feritliser using OptRx, Leicesterhsire, UK

For the purpose of these field trials, we have chosen three locations on the home farm.  Each location has been split in half; one half will be the standard practise (typically three applications of nitrogen as a flat rate for feed wheat and sometimes a fourth application for milling wheat, all applied post emergence) and the other half will be using the OptRx sensors.  To date there has been a flat rate applied across the entire area earlier on in the year, followed by a second dose on April 9th which was half standard practise and half OptRx recommendations.  This will be followed by a third dose in the next 10 days.  Some of the milling wheat may also receive a fourth dose to help increase the protein content.

During each of the applications, I have been on farm to oversee the operation and make sure that the operator (William Morley) was not only familiar with the equipment but also to make sure that he understood how the system works in terms of the science behind the technology.  Once Will was familiar with the system, everything went smoothly and he even did other fields on the farm because he was impressed with what he saw.  Of course, yield results will ultimately determine success measuring the benefits and economical return for what we have done.

Up to this point, the Morleys' only experience with precision ag technology was a manual guidance system.  However, now that they have been introduced to variable rate application, they have started to see the potential returns for investing in this type of technology.

William Morley had this to say:

“It has been very interesting watching the VI values change throughout our fields. Usually they change when you would expect them to, but sometimes not.  But one surprise has been how much they change!  We are now starting to see the benefit of this technology and believe the yield mapping will help tie it all together and validate the use of variable rate nitrogen.”

As you can imagine, they are eagerly anticipating harvest time to see the results!