Precision farming has long held the promise of improving N fertiliser management, hence improving yields and profit and reducing pollution. Whilst a range of approaches are now being used on-farm to address spatial variation in N fertiliser application to cereal crops, there is not yet a comprehensive system that determines absolute N amounts and timings. The Auto-N project brings together a consortium with research expertise in N fertiliser management, crop sensing & spatial variability with proven commercial expertise in precision agriculture technologies in order to develop commercially-viable systems for automated, fine-scale adjustment of N applications to autumn-sown cereals.
A comprehensive N management protocol has been developed for the HGCA Wheat N Management Guide. This project will automate this protocol as far as possible using spatial information on: past & previous yields; protein contents & N offtakes; soil & weather information; and sensed crop information, including real-time canopy signals. Field experiments will be established, firstly to explain in-field variation in soil N supplies and optimum fertiliser N requirements, and whether grain N% provides a useful post-mortem on optimum N use. Secondly they will investigate the effects of genotypes, sowing dates and establishment on Green Area Indices and soil-adjusted vegetation indices. The resulting automated N management systems will then be validated using on-farm comparisons with uniform N management.
The project’s partners in this Sustainable Arable LINK project are committed to a business model that will enable full and rapid application of the new systems across the UK.