Will Atkinson

Beck Hill Farm, North Yorkshire

In an effort to reduce chemical spend and improve black-grass control, Will Atkinson has resorted to using a drone fitted with a near-infrared camera to accurately map and control the weed.

As part of the strategy, he conducts regular ‘ground truthing’ which involves identifying the weed’s unique infrared signature using a special piece of kit, allowing the drone to detect black-grass distribution across a field and create a map of target plants.

He uses this approach to identify black-grass between September and June. Resulting maps are used to target a pre-emergence herbicide stack in areas where infestation is high enough to justify the chemistry.

It also allows him to accurately spot treat black-grass infested areas in the spring with glyphosate. This has eliminated the need for a blanket pre-emergence treatment that would otherwise cost around £150/ha and only achieve 85 per cent control.

Cost savings

While the strategy has only recently been adopted, his spend on pre-emergence herbicides has typically dropped to around £49-£62/ha and compared to 2016 when he was forced to spray 20ha of infested crop with glyphosate, this year he has only had to desiccate 2.5ha as a result of his new strategy.

To increase the accuracy of the technique, Will is looking at investing in a sprayer that has the capacity for individual nozzle shut-off.

Using variable rate seeding, this allows a higher rate to be applied to particularly heavy areas of the field. Going forward, he sees potential in using the drone to generate plant counts that can be used to optimise seed rates in subsequent crops.

He is also working towards ways of using the multi-spectral camera on the drone to detect early stages of disease, potentially two weeks before symptoms are present in order to accurately apply protectant fungicides.

Will operates a controlled traffic system across his arable acreage and has recently created a homemade bale sledge to tow behind his round baler to move bales to the headland to avoid compaction.