How can sensor technology improve efficiency in grassland production?

Auhor: Deborah Crossan (IfA) - March 28, 2018

In simple terms, sensors are just another way of measuring, be it soil samples, yields or crop quality. When this data is monitored against other on-farm combined results, it is possible to make informed management decisions. Precision techniques have been widely adopted in arable farming, and has resulted in optimum use of expensive inputs and resources which has resulted in improved gross margins. However, precision farming techniques are not, so far, widely used on grassland despite the wide in field variation of both yield potential and nutrient status.

This could be about to change according to Phil Cosgrave, Agronomist for Yara, introducing the Yara–N-Sensor to livestock farmers, could mean we are a short term away from offering a solution to real time variable rates for nitrogen applications on grassland.

Developed at Yara’s R & D centre in Germany, The N-Sensor is mounted on the front of the tractor cab and measures the nitrogen demand using crop specific light reflectance. The N-Sensor bases its measurements on specific wavelengths of light to establish exact levels of biomass and colour within the leaf. The data is transferred to the spreader which adjusts the application rate accordingly, thus reducing the environmental effects of run-off and maximising yield. It has been in use on arable farms since 1996. The Grass Sense project has taken the N-Sensor and conducted trials on UK grassland, and has shown that uniform application of nitrogen fertiliser results in overand under-fertilisation with optimum N rates for 1st cut silage varying substantially from 60 to 165 kg N/ha (UK trial). The trials have shown N uptake in grassland can be predicted very accurately which has resulted in the release of the N-Sensor grass calibration.

Stated potential benefits are:

  • Increased yields 
  • Fertiliser savings
  • Grass quality improvements
  • Less lodging 
  • Reduced N run-off