'Precision conservation' is a relatively new phrase within our collective businesses and, as such, it is right to ask the question: What does it actually refer to?
For most, 'precision' and 'conservation' are two words not immediately associated with one another. In an agricultural context, 'conservation' can have us thinking wistfully of tussocky field corners and snaking wildflower margins. Of course, when you really think about it, the location of these features is never by accident. Some planning is always involved and that's when the link between the two words becomes clearer.
Many farms will have access to soil type maps, satellite imagery and yield maps. However, with the advent of new digital technology on farm, we're now seeing this data being recorded in more detail than ever before which has got us thinking…
What about using the information to digitally record and identify areas suited to conservation management? Why not log online records of your farmland bird numbers? How about mapping the precise location of a rare wildflower species on your farm?
It may be that you've never really thought about utilising the digital tools at your disposal to record things like this. However, the data gathered from satellite imagery and soil and yield maps can provide valuable insight for the location and integration of conservation measures.
Put simply, once you have identified the unproductive areas of your land, you can look at other options that might be more economically viable, i.e. putting them into stewardship options that benefit the farm's ecosystem, adhere to agri-environmental policy and contribute to your bottom line. Better still, you can monitor the results of your efforts too.
Bringing it all together
While there's no data system quite like that of our brains and the extensive knowledge stored within them, the real breakthrough is being able to combine the years of expertise and knowledge gained from working the land with the digital tools that help you precisely map, measure, plan and record.
It is already possible to layer soil conductivity, soil type and biomass imagery etc. on top of one another. So, why shouldn't we take it to the next stage with Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs), stewardship and sporting data layers too?
In-field agronomy data like crop images and soil health measurements can all be stored in MySOYL, part of Frontier's farm management platform, MyFarm. However, this can also be an ideal application for logging your conservation and environmental records too.
It is not uncommon for many game managers and growers to rely on photocopied map sketches and an abundance of highlighter pens to mark out areas. While this is fine, it can lead to more work later on if changes need to be made or if something has been recorded in error. Suddenly, reams of paper hit the recycling bin and the plans need to start again. In comparison, the ability to accurately measure distances, areas and trial different plot shapes and sizes digitally is a revelation.
Merging local know-how with hard data collected from a number of seasons can soon bring the areas of land that need to be in EFA or a stewardship option to the fore. Quite literally too – crop performance imagery in MySOYL actually highlights these areas of land on your computer screen. Pairing this data with mobile apps such as iSOYL scout means multiple stakeholders can have input, with field features and points of interest easily logged while you're walking your fields. This can help you bring agri-environment options and agreements to fruition that work for the whole farm business; its soils, water, staff and wildlife.
Valuing your assets
Undoubtedly you will have an inventory of and know the value of such vital elements as your land, machinery, buildings and – of course – your staff. But, do you know the quantity (be it in hectares or numbers) of grass margins, corn buntings or key pollinator species? Have you a record of these key data sets? If so, where do you currently keep them?I can imagine for many the first question is easily answered but the second and third could be a bit trickier; maybe you have a mix of farm maps, note pads, scraps of paper and game books etc. Bringing all of this together in one secure, online space will deliver value for your business and give you a great sense of achievement too. This is even more important given the changes on the horizon; business benchmarking is common practice but 'natural capital benchmarking' is coming.
In summary, 'precision conservation' enables you to record, analyse and value your natural capital and this has the potential to be financially beneficial for you and your business.
Going forward, being rewarded for managing farmland will come down to 'public money for public goods'. If you know what public goods you have and where they are, you're certainly going to be in a much better place to tap into the public money.
This winter, across a series of Digital Crop Production Events, we'll be discussing more about 'precision conservation' and the ways in which our experts at Kings, SOYL and Frontier can support you with it. If you'd like to know more about how it could work for you and your farm, find your local event and register here. Alternatively, you can also get in touch with Kings or SOYL direct.