Tell us a little bit about your business set-up
I am currently managing an in-hand farming enterprise for a Bedfordshire Estate, covering some 1340 hectares. Alongside the 1000ha of combinable cropping, the farm runs a small beef herd of rare breed British White cattle (managed using Cattle Manager) and manages 3 environmental schemes, creating habitat rich environments for the Wild Bird shoot, another department of the Estate.
The farm is very keen on sustainable farming and made the transition 3 years ago to a no-till policy featuring cover crops and a larger area of Spring cropping. This all makes for some complex cropping plans and sequences, which are all managed through gatekeeper.
In partnership with Soil health and adopting precision farming techniques wherever possible, the farm has its own in-house RTK base station of which a 12m Controlled Traffic Policy is operated. Again, this is all managed through gatekeeper, storing and ewxporting the various guidance lines to the appropriate machines when they are required.
How long have you been using Gatekeeper software? What prompted you to start?
The Farm has been using Gatekeeper since 2006, largely to manage stocks and centralise recommendations made by the agronomist. Over time it’s use has been gradually increased, adding John Deere and mapping modules in recent years.
I myself have been using gatekeeper for 6 years now, with my first introduction of the software being at a previous employment. Having an immediate interest in Gatekeeper’s potential, I set about learning it’s features and integrating this into the day to day farm management. 2 years ago, I took the position of Farm Manager at Whitbread Farms and quickly began increasing the level of which Gatekeeper was integrated. There was a greater need for financial analysis, data handling and targeting our approaches via the Mapping module as well as generally stitching together lots of valuable precision farming technology that were happening across the farm.
Being the Farm’s agronomist as well, there isn’t a day where the Software isn’t used in some form where Sentinel Active and the PF modules have been added and are proving invaluable.
On a day to day basis – what key features are you using in Gatekeeper? And how do they benefit your business
Day to day uses of Gatekeeper include managing all the stock, writing recommendations for all product applications, nutrient management planning and managing the data transfer from all the machines. We run sperate contract farming agreements within the farming business so accuracy in record keeping within gatekeeper is critical to enable the correct charges to be made between businesses, allowing for thorough strategic analysis in how the Farms are performing.
Other features that are highly used include the mapping module for managing all the guidance lines for the CTF system, detailing the Environmental schemes, showing the positions of all the utilities across the Estate for staff and contractors, detailing blackgrass zones and pest pressures and creating various arable cropping reports. PF modules are used for creating VR plans through the grid generator, interpreting all the stored date such as soil type, nutrient analysis and yield maps.
Have you been able to identify any cost savings as a result of using Gatekeeper, mapping or planning tools?
Gatekeeper has proved very successful in storing and managing output data which can then be overlaid over various years to enable the identification of poorer areas that can be, if required, taken out of production and managed alternatively.
Being able to manage the wireless data transfer trough the software has meant the farm is now running a paperless system which has saved time and improved accuracy, the farm can be very reactive to crop requirements and send recommendations to working machines at the click of a button. The software plays a vital role in the Controlled traffic system which in itself has improved operator output, focused compaction areas and allowed tramlines to develop over time to allow machines to travel on firm wheeling’s in wider weather windows. Gatekeeper provides the central management for this where guidance can be altered and lines added quickly as required, i.e for strategic mole ploughing across field drains.
The Farm is now at a level with the financial recording that accounting time has been greatly reduced. Various reports can be quickly produced to monitor performance, manage inter business transactions and make informed business decisions
Of course, when using Gatekeeper you have to invest time to create work plans and manage your data but do you find this is time well spent? Do you save time further down the line as a result
Committing time in these areas is certainly time well spent. Once recommendations have been created, they serve as vital information for the operators and serve as legal documents that are saved within the system. Having various cropping sequences, machinery settings/costings, VR maps and footpath and utility alerts attached to them, they are complex documents that serve various purposes. Gatekeeper can centralise these which can be quickly stored and referred to.
Gatekeeper can then export these into our machines for the job to then be completed. Once this has occurred a file is then returned with key completion data (weather and times) as well as an actual applied map of the operation. This applied data can then add greater accuracy to the Gross margin maps, given parts of each field are treated differently.
How does the integration of Gatekeeper with in-cab software and hardware benefit you?
The Farm operates all John Deere AMS equipment with an RTK correction signal from an inhouse starfire base station.
From a machine point of view, they all carry 2630 screens, wireless data transfer MTG units, radio packs and starfire 3000 domes. Every machine has this attached to them to provide location data and communication links with Gatekeeper/John Deere software, this includes 2 tractors, a self-propelled sprayer and the Combine Harvester.
Being able to manage logistics and import and ex
port data against every field operation has significantly increased our farm recording accuracy. The paperless system has streamlined data flow greatly and saved a great of time with being able to centralise a huge amount of data and then export as required from the farm office.
As a trained agronomist, you have a slightly different perspective to the standard farm manager. How does Gatekeeper help you form the agronomic point of view?
The Farm Agronomy is covered in house so it Is vital that decisions and are checked and supported when creating recommendations. This is taken care of by Sentinel Active and as a result, plays a very important role.
Not only are the recommendations both exported and imported back into Gatekeeper, but the software also receives an applied coverage map back from the machine, allowing us to know exactly what has been applied and where, adding further depth to our level of traceability.
Sentinel Active is a tool in constant use and is invaluable for cross checking products, sourcing the latest EAMU’s and providing peace of mind and legal cover for practicing agronomists. The feature remains active all of the time, providing constant feedback and guidance
Are you currently using drone data? How has this new technology helped you on farm?
A drone became another agronomy tool in the Spring of 2017. Its primary role was to fly fields using automated software, zoning field attributes to influence decisions and provide imagery to remain as historical data, building up a greater knowledge of areas of the farm.
This process has typically been used to influence growth regulator applications, measure slug and rabbit pressures and to zone blackgrass. The latter has been used to build a risk map within gatekeeper based around a traffic light system, to influence cropping decisions and the general management of each field given the historical pressure of the grassweed.
In certain cases, drone imagery has been imported into Gatekeeper to allow a target application map to be created, providing a variable rate glyphosate plan to completely destroy blackgrass at flowering within the crop to minimise seed return. This was then exported to the sprayer and on approach to an infested area, the sprayer would automatically treat with no influence from the operator
Will Haupt is a trained agronomist and farm manager. He has been using Gatekeeper for over 10 years. This interview was conducted in December 2017.Book a free software demo