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Derk Gesink on precision farming

For me, precision farming means taking the right number of measures at the right time in order to maximize the crop. Precision farming is set to become very important for us in the future. Here in the Netherlands, sixteen million people live on a tiny area of land, and land is extremely expensive. You need to make sure you reap the most from your land. I think that the only way of doing this in the future whilst keeping your job as a farmer is to use precision farming. If you want to work with precision farming, you really need to have a passion for modern technology. It’s not all plug and play, but I do feel that we’re coming on in leaps and bounds. There’s no better feeling than when you realize you’re making progress each year. I hope to carry on farming for another twenty-five to thirty years. By making progress every year, I think precision agriculture can offer a great future. It’s not like I can calculate like with a potato harvester;
it saves me so much work and earns me so much money. Right now, it’s about investing and gaining knowledge. Working with it so intensively, I have noticed that I’m starting to look at crops in a totally different way. I’m looking at my crop in the field in greater detail, and gathering more data. How many stalks do I have on a one-metre strip? How many tubers are growing there? Farmers used to do this by instinct. I am a farmer who likes to work with numbers, and I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy using the technology so much. When you work with it so intensively, you notice how it increases your yields. I don’t think the future of the farm lies in total digitalization. First and foremost, you’re working with nature – and that’s different every year. Even so, I think that if you want to carry on farming in the future, you’ll have to build up knowledge of ICT, as that is the ultimate tool for improving your crops still further. We have one main forerunner here in the Netherlands. Five of us went to visit him two years ago. What we saw impressed us so much that we said: ‘that’s the direction we want to take, too’. Then we said to each other: ‘we need to be prepared to make serious investments’. A drone is an example of this investment. It’s just like with the first computer: you dive in and you just keep on learning. You build on that experience, applying it to a system which we can really develop. The drone is like a scout; it’s like our eyes in the field. My grandad knew exactly where the good and bad growing patches were for his plants, right down to the last square metre. The large scale of today’s farms means farmers no longer have such ready knowledge, so they need to store it in a digital system. A drone is part of this system, but there are several ways of gathering data. We have sensors on the sprayer which gather information whilst the crops are being sprayed. There is a sensor in the field which continuously measures moisture and temperature levels. We can add a crop model to this in the future, which will tell us much more precisely when we have to spray the crops against certain diseases. I think that there will be a time when every farmer, or a number of farmers as a unit, will use a drone. The drone will start working in the mornings, gathering information from the field. Via smarthone or another device available in the future, the drone will send me information only about the plots of land needing attention. It won’t bother me with any plots that are performing in line with the growth model. This means I’ll only have to look at the extreme cases. That’s the future.

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